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Two major computing conferences take place this month in the Seattle area: the ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM 2012), which runs February 8–12 in Seattle and focuses on how to improve web search algorithms, and the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2012), which runs February 11–15 in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue and centers on how collaboration can be better supported through technological and design advances. These overlapping symposia mean that the Puget Sound region will be home to even more computer brain power than normal in mid-February.
Recognizing the unique opportunity afforded by these simultaneous conferences, Microsoft Research is sponsoring a Social Search Social, an event that will zero in on the common research interests of these two communities. On February 11, approximately 100 researchers and thought leaders from both conferences will meet at Microsoft Research, where their combined expertise in algorithms, interfaces, information retrieval, and collaborative systems design will, we are certain, establish a network from which the next generation of innovations can arise. Participants will include Microsoft employees, professors, and students from the United States and abroad, and researchers from other corporations.
Researchers will have ample opportunity to mingle and share ideas by participating in several structured and unstructured networking events. Participants can present a single slide about their current research in a fast-paced “madness” session. And with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, who can resist a “research speed dating” event, which will pair up attendees of the CSCW and WSDM conferences for brief conversations. There will also be plenty of free time for conversation while enjoying a bite to eat—always an excellent way to ignite ideas and collaborations.
This upcoming event has inspired us to create an email distribution list that will allow us to collect and share information for possible collaborations in social search. We invite you to contribute by submitting your research interests and suggestions for collaborative projects. To participate, send an empty email message to Join Social Search to subscribe to the distribution list. Once you have subscribed, you can start sending your ideas to the Social Search Distribution List. It is our hope that this distribution list will provide the start of a framework for community interactions across social search research efforts.
—Meredith Ringel Morris, Microsoft Research, Researcher, Natural Interaction group; and Evelyne Viegas, Microsoft Research Connections, Director of Semantic Computing
On December 2, 2011, Microsoft Research Asia held the Kinect for Windows Workshop 2011 in Beijing, China. The event, which drew more than 100 participants, including faculty and students from Chinese universities, provided a forum for exploring research that utilizes Kinect for Windows. It not only offered a great opportunity for faculty members and students to showcase their Kinect-based research and exchange creative ideas, it also fostered enhanced cooperation between Chinese academic institutions and Microsoft Research Asia.
The workshop kicked off with a welcome speech from Baining Guo, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia. He highlighted Microsoft Research Asia’s contributions in research fields that use Kinect. His speech was followed by a keynote speech from Stewart Tansley, director at Microsoft Research Connections. Tansley shared the latest strategies for and status of Kinect for Windows on a global level.
After opening addresses, the university participants divided into faculty and student groups. The faculty participants heard lectures on Kinect-based research and development from four Microsoft Research Asia researchers: Yichen Wei (Visual Computing Group), Xin Tong (Internet Graphics Group), Sergio Paolantonio (HCI Group), and Frank Soong (Speech Group). These lectures introduced the audience to such research prototypes as the Kinect Identity Project and Kinect-based Object Digitization Project.
In addition, a number of professors shared their own projects, which captured the depth of the innovative research surrounding Kinect. Highlights included presentations by:
Professor Xilin Chen, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who introduced his project, Sign Language Recognition and Translation Based on Kinect, which uses multinational input data for sign recognition. The resulting technology could make it easier for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to communicate, thereby helping them function more effectively in their daily life.
Professor Lianwen Jin, of the South China University of Technology, who demonstrated his project, Writing in the Air by Hand—Recognition of Virtual Handwritten Characters Using Kinect, which aims to develop a Chinese character recognition system for Kinect. The project addresses the broader problem of providing a way for Kinect users to input text, enabling them to do so simply by using hand gestures.
Professor Ligang Liu, of Zhejiang University, who showcased his project, Capturing Human Models Using Multiple Kinects, which uses multiple Kinect units to set up a novel scanning system for capturing three-dimensional (3-D) models of the human body. This research takes advantage of the Kinect sensors—which are designed to facilitate computer-human interaction—to obtain in-depth 3-D data on the entire body, even when the body is in motion. A first possible application could be personal avatars that help users get a good fit for clothing they purchase online.
Researchers from Microsoft Research Asia were actively involved in all three of these projects, demonstrating the robust state of collaboration between Microsoft Research Asia and Chinese academic institutions. Commenting on the importance of such interactive projects, Professor Chen stated, “In the future, when realizing our ideas, we hope to increase our cooperation with Microsoft Research Asia.”
The student group attended a number of sessions tailored specifically for them, including a speech on computer art, delivered by Tsinghua University Professor Yingqing Xu, and an explanation of the operating principles of Kinect, presented by DJ Lan of Microsoft Asia R&D. Two Microsoft Research Asia interns also shared their Kinect application development experience with the student participants and joined them in hands-on projects.
The demo session generated the most excitement, and featured 15 booths of posters, videos, and demo programs for Kinect projects. The booths were organized by professors and students who delivered detailed demonstrations of their projects. The demos attracted many attendees, including Microsoft Research Asia staff members who participated in discussions with professors and students, and were inspired by their innovative ideas.
The workshop also inspired faculty and students, who left with a better understanding of the possibilities for Kinect-based research. In addition, the workshop bolstered opportunities for future collaboration between Microsoft Research Asia and the Chinese academic community. As Lolan Song, the senior director of Microsoft Research Asia observed, “It’s a great opportunity for Microsoft Research Asia to strengthen communication and collaboration with faculty and students. Microsoft Research Asia is committed to exploring more qualified research projects with Chinese universities and academic institutions, as we believe such collaboration will have long-term social benefits.”
—Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia
Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States, according to the Computing Research Association. That’s down from 35 percent in 1985, despite U.S. Labor Department statistics that show computing to be among the fastest-growing, most in-demand fields, with too few qualified candidates to fill the available openings. In addition, studies reveal that executives value the variety of perspectives that comes with team diversity, yet another reason for needing greater female participation in computing careers.
As a technology company and innovation leader, Microsoft is passionate about increasing the participation of women in computing, which means attracting more female students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. CEO Steve Ballmer has acknowledged this need, observing that “…we need to keep more women interested longer in their lives in STEM subjects.” We know this will require a concerted effort across private companies, NGOs, IGOs, government, and academia. We recognize that it’s vital for young women to get support during their undergraduate and graduate studies and to be exposed to opportunities in computer science, which is why Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and to fund the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.
I remember my first year of college engineering studies: I took Computer Science 101, studying PASCAL. I found it extremely boring, and I had no idea what careers were available in computer science, even though I was working at the school’s computer center where I supported students in computer labs, installed network cards into student computers, and helped the IT staff build the university’s firewall. At the time, I had no idea these duties, which I really enjoyed, were potential careers in computer science. After being approached by one of the professors to conduct research on building an animatronic bison for the engineering department, I decided to focus my energies on mechanical engineering and robotics. I didn’t realize that robotics could be part of the computer science world. A future in computer science engineering seemed out of the question—so there I was: one less woman in computer science.
Today, I want to do everything possible so that young women don’t make the same mistakes as I did. It is critical for us at Microsoft Research to familiarize young women with the amazing career opportunities in computing. In furtherance of that goal, I would like to highlight the programs and recipients of this year’s NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund and the Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship.
NCWIT is a national coalition of more than 200 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and nonprofits working to strengthen the technology workforce and cultivate innovation by increasing the participation of women. Its Academic Alliance brings together more than 250 distinguished representatives from the computer science and IT departments of colleges across the country, spanning research universities, community colleges, women’s colleges, and minority-serving institutions. In 2007, Microsoft Research initiated the Seed Fund in partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance. The NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund provides U.S. academic institutions with funds (up to US$15,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. To date, the Seed Fund has awarded US$315,450. In partnership with NCWIT Academic Alliance, we would like to announce the 2012 winners:
In addition, we know that a woman’s first two years of computer science graduate study are the most critical. During this time, she must determine her area of focus, increase her confidence in the field, enhance her capabilities in publishing and research, and build her network. This is why Microsoft Research created the Women’s Graduate Scholarship, which provides a US$15,000 stipend plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance to women in their second year of graduate study (at a U.S. or Canadian university), helping them gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the burgeoning cost of graduate programs. Winners of the 2012 Microsoft Research Graduate Scholarship are:
Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2012’s women in computing.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections