A Belgium-based swarm intelligence conference is breaking new ground, with bitcoin set to be accepted as payment for registration. This makes it the first such scientific event to accept the digital currency.

The appropriately named ANTS, the ninth international conference on swarm intelligence, is set to be held in Brussels from September 10th to 12th by IRIDIA – the country’s leading artificial intelligence lab located at the Free University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles).

IRIDIA says it is one of the leading incubators of the Belgian bitcoin scene. Researchers from the lab created a discussion group that later evolved into the Brussels bitcoin meetup group, which they claim is one of the oldest in the world and the biggest in Europe.

The Brussels-based group was a major catalyst in the creation of the recently established Belgian Bitcoin Association (BBA).

To enable bitcoin payments, IRIDIA says it has teamed up with the BBA to become the first scientific conference accepting payments in the digital currency.

“There are several reasons why we decided to include bitcoin as a payment option,” Arne Brutschy, Director of the Belgian Bitcoin Association, told CoinDesk. “It’s a logical step after being the incubator of much of Belgian’s bitcoin activity – we try to promote and use bitcoin where we can. As we’re not a business, we have very little opportunity to do so practically, but our bi-annual conference gave us such an opportunity.”

Related field

According to Brutschy, the lab’s research focuses on self-organizing, decentralised systems, which makes the digital currency an interesting field of study from a scientific point of view, as exemplified by IRIDIA’s research director, Professor Marco Dorigo.

“Professor Dorigo became personally interested in bitcoin and sees it as closely related to our research field,” said Brutschy, who is also a researcher in artificial intelligence and swarm robotics at IRIDIA. “Thus, for our lab, bitcoin is interesting out of a purely academic motivation as well.”

Moreover, Brutschy says there is a very practical reason for the conference’s endorsement of bitcoin:

“Research should be open to anyone, anywhere. The research community should be free of barriers of entry in order to ensure that everyone can partake in the discussion. Unfortunately, to date, we had to rely on the traditional banking system for international payments, a choice that excludes a large part of the world in which credit cards are not easy to obtain, international payments are not possible, and so on.”

The conference’s organizers are regularly contacted by researchers who would like to participate in the conference, but cannot do so due to the aforementioned issues, according to Brutschy.

“We believe that bitcoin can alleviate these problems,” Brutschy says. “The Belgian Bitcoin Association is also grateful for an opportunity to foster the use of bitcoin in Belgium.”

New discipline

On their website, the conference’s organizers say that swarm intelligence is a relatively new discipline that deals with the study of self-organising processes, both in nature and in artificial systems.

The bi-annual event gives researchers in swarm intelligence the opportunity to meet, to present their latest research, and to discuss current developments and applications in fields varying from ant colony optimization to swarm robotics, and applying swarm intelligence techniques to control large groups of cooperating autonomous robots.

Bitcoin discount

For those researchers who endorse the digital currency, the event will be an opportunity to use bitcoins to pay their registration fees, which range from €300 ($413.8) for students to the full rate of €400 ($551.8) for researchers. Those willing to pay with their digital currency will receive a €10 ($13.8) discount.

According to the organizers, the conference fee expressed in the cryptocurrency is automatically computed using the current average value available here.

Set up in November 2013 and based in Brussels, the BBA says its primary purpose is to support members in their bitcoin-related efforts, promote the use of the digital currency, impact government policymaking, and shape business and technical expertise.

Moreover, the association says it aims to clarify all aspects of bitcoin from the day-to-day transactions to the security and cryptography aspects, educate on the cryptocurrency, and raise awareness on its use across Belgium.

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