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The Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2013—the fourteenth edition of this annual event—is now history, but I’m still catching my breath after two days of meeting and sharing ideas with some of the world’s foremost computer scientists. In attendance were more than 400 representatives of academic institutions from more than 29 countries around the world, along with researchers from Microsoft Research’s 13 worldwide labs—all drawn by the common purpose of exploring the power of computing to solve real-world problems.
The cloud, machine learning, big data, and, of course, software engineering, were key topics of the summit. However, as I mentioned in my opening remarks at the event, the overarching idea is to put technological resources together to reach informed, intelligent decisions that can help solve critical problems. With the cloud providing the storage and processing power, machine learning providing the analytical tools, and the deluge of data, computer science researchers have the capacity to make an impact in healthcare, environmental protection, criminal justice, education—virtually every arena of the world’s challenges.
The opening keynote by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was an extended Q&A, with Bill answering question after question from the onsite audience and online viewers. This set just the right tone, marking the summit as a forum for interactive, wide-ranging discussions about the promise of technology as a change agent.
Opening keynote: Innovation & Opportunity—the Contribution of Computing to Improving Our World
The open and honest discussion continued throughout the two days, from formal breakout sessions devoted to such topics as gene sequencing, quantum computing, prediction markets, spam marketing, and visual recognition, to informal meetings in the corridors and lounges throughout the Microsoft Conference Center. You couldn’t swing a cat —Schrodinger’s or otherwise—without hitting a cluster of experts debating some aspect of modern computing and its potential.
In addition to Bill Gates’ opening keynote, we heard powerful, thought-provoking addresses from Doug Burger, director of client and cloud applications at Microsoft, who challenged us to take advantage of changes in the hardware ecosystem; vice presidents Peter Lee and Jeannette Wing, the new co-leaders of Microsoft Research, who gave us their vision of the rewards of basic research; and Clay Shirky, the prominent author and professor at New York University, who opened our minds to the power of new media and the intrinsic “messiness” created by online crowds.
In his opening keynote, Bill Gates answered questions from the onsite audience as well as online viewers.
A gathering like this is a great opportunity for learning, but even those who were not there could share at least some of the experience through the live streaming webcast that took place during the first day of the summit. This program not only captured the day’s opening and closing addresses, it took full advantage of the high-powered assemblage by streaming live interviews with world-class experts on topics as varied as crisis informatics, cancer therapy, and automated sign language interpretation. If you missed the live webcast, don’t worry. The entire program is available on demand. Watch the segments that we streamed live on our Virtual Faculty Summit page and find links to the individual sessions (as well as the presenters’ slides) on our Agenda page. So click on over and get ready to be inspired, just as I was by seeing the computer science community at its best.
—Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections
Are you a researcher who spends a lot of time deploying field studies in homes and other buildings where human activity takes place—studies that often involve both custom-built and off-the-shelf sensors and devices? Do you face challenges in combining these varying devices together in one experiment? Do you collect data from dozens to hundreds of experiment sites? Do your experiments require frequent updating with fixes or new extensions? And finally, do you wish you could share your infrastructure and subjects with others, so that you can conduct collaborative experiments? The Lab of Things (LoT) provides the infrastructure, software, and services that make all of these things possible. So what is the LoT? It is a research-device platform based on Microsoft Research’s HomeOS system. The LoT allows virtually any type of device to be interconnected to the infrastructure. It boasts an open-driver model that lets you write a driver in the event that your device is not supported. You can also choose to share your new driver with the research community so others can benefit from your work.
The LoT also comes with a set of cloud services that support deployment of experiments at scale. One of the services is the LoT monitoring portal, which provides near real-time status of all the sites in your study. The update service allows you to configure your experiments so that you receive all of your field-study data in one convenient location in the cloud. It also facilitates on-the-fly updates to experiments, drivers, and any other component of the infrastructure, without your having to visit the site physically. Through all of these features, the LoT lets you interconnect devices and scale up your field studies in diverse experiment locations. With the LoT, you will spend a LOT more of your research time and budget where it is meant to be spent: conducting actual experiments, rather than developing software infrastructure. Visit lab-of-things.com and get started today!
—Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
I enjoy being able to work in technology because it has the potential for great impact in a range of research areas. But, more specifically, I have the privilege to work with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil to achieve that goal. Together, Microsoft Research and FAPESP created a joint research center in 2006—the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research—that has been going strong ever since.
The Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research supports high-quality fundamental research in information and communication technologies. In the beginning, the center focused on addressing social and economic development needs in the São Paulo region. However, in recent years, the research has focused primarily on learning about the environment by using advanced technologies.
Fueling the Future: FAPESP
I am very pleased to announce that the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research recently concluded its sixth request for proposal (RFP) cycle by selecting two winning proposals in the area of environmental sciences.
The objective of the sixth RFP was to explore the application of computing science to the challenges of basic research in areas related to global climate change and the environmental sciences. Researchers worldwide acknowledge that technology can provide powerful tools for environmental research, benefiting society and aiding in the planet’s sustainability. As such, this request for proposals focused on turning data into knowledge.Respondents had the option of developing their own technology application or using an existing technology that was developed by Microsoft Research (for example, research accelerators that can be used to manage, publish, analyze, or visualize a research project, or new tools for science).
The two winning proposals from the submissions received are:
Towards an Understanding of Tipping Points within Tropical South American Biomes, submitted by Principal Investigator Ricardo Torres of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP)
Combining New Technologies to Monitor Phenology from Leaves to Ecosystems, submitted by Principal Investigator Patrícia Morellato of the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP)
Notably, Morellato’s project is a follow-up to the recently concluded e-Phenology project, which was selected under the fourth Microsoft Research-FAPESP RFP. The research team also submitted a proposal to the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science (CEES) team and was awarded with a set of Mataki sensors to monitor small animals in the location where they are already monitoring the vegetation. The goal of that project is to explore correlations between the vegetation and small animals’ behavior and to gather a more complete understanding of how the ecosystem functions.
Congratulations to both the UNICAMP and UNESP teams on their winning submissions! I look forward to seeing the results of their research.
—Juliana Salles, Senior Research Project Manager, Microsoft Research Connections