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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