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July, 2010

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

July, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Computing Research Association Gathering Informs, Inspires

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    In even-numbered years, North America's Computing Research Association (CRA) gathers computer-science department heads, deans, provosts, and major computer-science funding agencies at the Snowbird Resort and Conference Center in the Wasatch Mountains, not far from Salt Lake City. Hot on the heels of Microsoft Research's Faculty Summit, the Snowbird Conference occurred July 18-20. The insight shared during sessions on statistics, trends, and the best ways to communicate computer science is applicable to the field as a whole, as were other ideas addressed in sessions held during the conference, including:

    - A Call to Action: Peter Harsha, who represents CRA in Washington, D.C., led a session providing an inside view of how the legislative process can affect the funding of computer-science research. He also explained the role the Computer Research Advocacy Network plays in ensuring that elected officials receive targeted, timely communications.

    - Understanding the Ranking of Graduate Programs: Charlotte Kuh of the National Research Council gave a progress report on a survey to update the 1995 database of Ph.D. rankings. The session chair, Jim Kurose of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, outlined the impact the CRA had in ensuring that its data included conference papers and citations in the computer-science field. Read the full story.

    - Computer Games: Michael Mateas of the University of California, Santa Cruz made a case for graduate research in game design and development, presenting an array of research areas important to the industry, including artificial intelligence, procedural generation, and interactive narratives. Donald Brinkman of Microsoft Research External Research presented educational game-related activities such as Kodu and the game-themed programming approach, outlining Microsoft's near-term plans to drive next-generation educational games.

    - Social Good: Lakshminarayanan Subramanian of New York University led a discussion on the potential computer-science departments have to promote social advancements through global initiatives. Examples included high-speed, point-to-point, solar-powered Wi-Fi and the use of technology to detect counterfeit currency, prescriptions, and other documents.

    - Basic Computing Knowledge: Andy van Dam from Brown University presented the findings from the CRA Education Committee on trends critical to the future of computer science, including diversity, pipeline issues, and general apathy toward the field of computer science. The report, two years in the making, details best practices to introduce students to computational thinking, to address computer-science curricula, and to identify and develop cognitive, mastery, and research skills.

    - Communicating Computer Science, The Hot Under the Cool: Chaired by Judith Bishop, director of Computer Science within Microsoft Research External Research, this session explored how to communicate innovation in computer science to a world already overwhelmed by technical advancements. Other participants in the session included Shyno Chacko Pandeya from the New Image of Computing Initiative, which uses the Dot Diva brand to attract middle-school girls; Virginia Gold from the Association for Computing Machinery, who provided insight into the marketing aspects of the first Computer Science Education Week campaign; and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University, who introduced his new book Networks, Crowds and Markets, co-written with Cornell colleague David Easley, which is aimed at large classes from all fields of study.

    Microsoft Research is a full member of the CRA and the conference. Rico Malvar, managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond, provided a new insight into the work of the association in promoting the interests of the members of the computing research community.

    The conference was a tremendous opportunity to help support advancement of the CRA strategy and agenda, as well as network with computer-science thought leaders in North America.

    Daron Green, general manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Web N-gram Services: Expanded Availability, New API

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    During the Association for Computing Machinery's 33rd annual SIGIR Conference, on July 19-23, 2010 in Geneva, Microsoft Research is announcing enhancements to the Microsoft Web N-gram Services, available free via a cloud-based platform. Microsoft Research created Microsoft Web N-gram Services to help drive discovery and innovation by enabling scientists to conduct research on real-world, web data. Microsoft Web N-gram Services support many research areas that have the potential to change lives, including natural language processing and empowering people to take advantage of the vast amounts of information available on the Internet via new web search capabilities.

    Introduced late last year, in partnership with Bing, the Microsoft Web N-gram Services public beta now is being extended beyond professors at accredited universities to include all researchers worldwide, provided they are using the service for non-commercial purposes. The service now also includes a predictive API in support of query-language models. By opening the service up to more researchers and making these important service enhancements, Microsoft Web N-gram Services will expand not only its audience, but also access to high-quality feedback

    In the video below, Kuansan Wang, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Redmond, offers a more detailed explanation of Microsoft Web N-gram Services. Wang works with a team focused on developing technologies that provide a better understanding of human languages.

    Professional gatherings such as the Web N-gram workshop during SIGIR 2010 serve as another important channel for using real-world expertise to enhance ongoing development of Microsoft Web N-gram Services. Research papers, selected by an international program committee, will be presented during the workshop and will be followed by discussions about the use of web-based data services for research. Workshops and other gatherings have been critical to the development of Microsoft Web N-gram Services from the beginning.  After the expansion of beta availability announced during the International World Wide Web Conference in April 2010, for example, many researchers took advantage of the opportunity to work with the services. One such researcher, Li Ding of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has his work on multiword tag clouds featured in this demo.  

    In addition to presentations, the workshop will include a panel discussion on issues related to query representation, including a rigorous definition of the task, modeling for the task, challenges and opportunities, implications for industrial research, and future research directions.

    If you are attending SIGIR 2010, I cordially invite you to attend the workshop, at 9 a.m. July 23 and take advantage of this opportunity to share your perspectives and connect with other researchers in the field.  To stay updated and to learn about opportunities to participate in ongoing development, please visit the Microsoft Web N-gram Services home page.

    Evelyne Viegas, senior research program manager, Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Rashid, Hey Award 2010 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows During Faculty Summit

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    Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, and Tony Hey, corporate vice president of the External Research division of Microsoft Research, join recipients of the 2010 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows awards. Rashid (left) is accompanied by (left to right) Evimaria Terzi, Haiying (Helen) Shen, abhi shelat, Raanan Fattal, Doug Downey, Sinan Aral, and Hey. Not pictured: recipient Cyrill Stachniss. (Photo by Michael Nakamura)

    This morning, on the second day of Faculty Summit 2010, we at Microsoft Research are proud to announce seven of the world's top university researchers as this year's awardees for the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows grant program. In its sixth year, the rigorous application process was opened to an international audience, giving away $1.4 million, with no strings attached. This year's awards will help to further research in the exhilarating fields of mobile robotics, natural language processing, algorithmic data mining with an emphasis on social-network analysis, and cryptography.

    Microsoft Research provides the fellows with support designed to have a tangible impact on their research. Each fellow receives a $200,000 award, to be used at his or her discretion for an unrestricted range of expenses that, in past years, have included planning research agendas, hiring graduate students, building labs, and purchasing equipment. Since the 2005 inception of the Faculty Fellows program, more than $7 million has been awarded to 37 professors from 22 universities. These funds are used to explore high-impact research that has the potential to solve some of today's most challenging problems.

    This year's fellows were chosen as a result of a multitier selection process that includes more than 100 reviewers, whose goal is to identify the future leaders of academic research while they are at the beginning of their careers. From three continents, 120 initial nominees were narrowed to 18 finalists, chosen to be interviewed by a panel of Microsoft Research executives, researchers, and faculty members from leading universities. Of those 18 finalists, the following seven were announced as the Microsoft Research 2010 Faculty Fellows:

    • Raanan Fattal, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Computer Science and Engineering: He uses tools from numerical analysis and general scientific computing to address problems in computing graphics, low-level vision, and image processing.
    • Evimaria Terzi, of the Boston University Department of Computer Science, whose research interests include algorithmic data mining with an emphasis on social-network analysis, sequential data analysis, ranking, clustering, and bioinformatics.
    • Haiying (Helen) Shen, of the Clemson University College of Engineering and Science, whose research is focused on distributed and parallel computer systems and computer networks.
    • Doug Downey, of the Northwestern University Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, whose research focuses on natural language processing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
    • Cyrill Stachniss, of the University of Freiburg Department of Computer Science is studying probabilistic techniques, using mobile robotics as his context.
    • abhi shelat, of the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, whose research is focused on the modern study of cryptography.
    • Sinan Aral, of New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, who is examining the role of information and information technology in the productivity and performance of companies.

    This year, the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows program included international awardees for the first time, awarding Stachniss and Fattal with fellowships to enhance their research.

    Fattal explores the application of elliptic-type operators such as derivatives and wavelet filters for problems such as edge-aware smoothing and interpolation, image sharpening, and resolution enhancement

    Raanan Fattal with Floraine Grabel

    Raanan Fattal of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem sketches the custom hardware needed for a new project in computational photography while talking with Floraine Grabler, a visiting graduate student from the University of California, Berkeley.  Fattal has been named one of seven young faculty members to receive 2010 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows.

    After receiving his award, Stachniss told us: "Being a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow is simply great for me and my research. First, the award gives me the opportunity to focus more on my research activities and less on writing grant proposals. Second, the group of Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows is a great platform of bright people, and I will enjoy discussions with them. Third, being a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow is definitively great for the CV when applying for other faculty positions."

    Cyrill Strachniss with Barbara Frank

    Cyrill Stachniss, one of seven recipients of the 2010 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows awards, demonstrates a mobile manipulation task, in which a robot has to place objects on a table, to Barbara Frank, a Ph.D. student, in the Department of Computer Science’s Autonomous Intelligent Systems lab at the University of Freiburg.

    When we asked Stachniss about his future plans, he replied: "The Microsoft grant allows me to react more flexibly on new developments and trends in robotics. I am considering spending parts of the grant on interesting new sensors to see how this will boost the performance of our robots."

    Over the next year, the External Research Team Blog will feature a series of posts that take an in-depth look at our Faculty Fellows and what they have accomplished since winning their grants. Please check back to learn more about this program and how it benefits the academic research community.  

    Tony Hey, corporate vice president, Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

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