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December, 2013

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.

December, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Innovating for the future: second annual International Women’s Hackathon

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    In a blog last week, I alluded to an important upcoming announcement. Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!

    Women in computing matters—International Women's Hackathon

    We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing.

    The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women.

    As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:

    • Male classmates underestimate their technical abilities and relegate them to project management roles in group projects.
    • There is a lack of women on the computer science faculty, which leaves them feeling that they have no good role models.
    • They question whether they can fulfill their desire to solve big challenges by working in a field that seems to discount their talents.

    This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members:

    Leads:

    • Halie Murray-Davis, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
    • Jinisha Patel, New Jersey Institute of Technology
    • Safia Abdalla, Northside College Preparatory High School

    Committee members:

    • Ashika Ganesh, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
    • Aishwarya Borkar, San Jose State University
    • Diem-Nhi Tran, University of Texas at Dallas
    • Heather Huynh, University of Georgia
    • Kylie Moden, Trinity University
    • Nishtha Oberai, University of Colorado at Boulder
    • Veronica Wharton, Rochester Institute of Technology

    The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.
    The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.

    We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving.

    I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world.

    I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Getting social down under, NUI style

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    I feel especially fortunate to be here in Melbourne, Australia, to participate in the launch of the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces. This is a joint research center between the University of Melbourne and Microsoft Research, in partnership with the state government of Victoria and Microsoft Australia. The center will explore applications of natural user interfaces—better known as NUI—in social situations. It will be the world’s first joint research center dedicated to studying and perfecting the social applications of NUI.

    The world's first joint research center devoted to social NUI

    As regular readers of this blog know, NUI enables us to interact with technology by using natural human capabilities for communication and manipulation of the physical world. The best-known examples come from the gaming world, where, for instance, Kinect for Xbox 360 uses natural gestures, voice commands, and body movements to slay villains or sink a putt. And ever since the release of the Kinect for Windows software development kit in 2011, developers have been finding novel applications of NUI beyond the universe of Halo 3: for example, to view medical images during surgery.

    The Social NUI Centre will promote interdisciplinary research that spurs the development of applications to facilitate communication, collaboration, and social interaction in the home and workplace; in public spaces such as museums and events; in formal and informal educational setting, including classrooms and online courses; and in the delivery of healthcare. I am looking forward to the Social NUI Centre opening the floodgates to new innovative social uses of NUI. The potential is limited only by our imagination.

    As the world’s first joint research center devoted to social NUI in Australia, this initiative stands as a testament to the University of Melbourne’s academic prowess and the government of Victoria’s commitment to high quality IT research. We expect the Social NUI Centre to create new social NUI applications and to serve as a testing ground for NUI technologies developed by Microsoft Research, as well as to provide internships for University of Melbourne doctoral students and extend Microsoft Research’s collaboration with University of Melbourne faculty and students.

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Hacking to build diverse teams of technological innovators

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    Technology can play a key role in finding solutions to big problems. First, we have to build diverse teams of innovators to lead the way. Hackathons provide a great opportunity for anyone to experience coding and see how technology can be used to address serious issues. As I contemplate my New Year's resolutions, I hope to do all that I can to encourage everyone who has an interest in computing to participate in a hackathon—as either a hacker or a sponsor.

    Microsoft Research was pleased to be a sponsor and supporter of Americas Datafest, a hackathon that took place in November 2013. The hackathon was organized by Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief of EFE and Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Teresa believes that the rapid spread of mobile broadband has the potential to help us address the challenges facing society in a data-driven manner. To explore this potential, she brought together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, data scientists, and others for a weekend of intense, multi-city collaboration to address important issues related to migration in the Americas.

     

    The hackathon demonstrated that technology experts, working in partnership with subject matter experts, could generate creative and promising ideas that can make a difference. We know that events like these not only help grow the next generation of diverse computer scientists and innovators, but also communicate the message that technology can help solve the world’s greatest problems.

    I'd like to hand this over to Teresa to discuss the event in more detail.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

     

    Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the issue we wanted to address with Americas Datafest. While immigration to the United States may be the most visible aspect of migration in the Americas, human flows throughout the region are complex and evolving. For example, Mexico is becoming a destination country, thanks to its growing economy and there are significant patterns of population movement within Latin America.

    The idea behind the hackathon was to inspire contestants to build apps that make public and crowd-sourced data accessible and useful for migrants. We also wanted to create tools that facilitate outreach and data collection by NGOs and researchers. Ultimately, such efforts can provide evidence to inform immigration policies across the region. I invited subject matter experts from the United Nations, the World Bank, and NGOs in the United States and Latin America to submit challenge topics, which our participants then used as a basis for brainstorming project ideas.

    The event was held simultaneously in 20 cities across 11 countries and each location nominated two top teams for our global awards. Their projects covered a diverse range of ideas. Harvard students focused on facilitating immigrants’ integration. Other students from the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil built tools that can help migrants in general, whether they move domestically or abroad.

    Health was another prominent subject. The team at Fusion, the new joint venture between ABC News and Univision, created a project that will allow the TV network’s audience to gather their personal data to improve their understanding of their own health; the aggregate data can be used to examine the major health issues within the demographic. Like this project, many of the projects can be adapted for other parts of the world.

    The winning projects were:

    ¿Dónde estás?: A measurement and mapping tool to search for Central American migrants in Mexico

    Health24: An application that helps migrants receive basic diagnoses and correctly identify and use over-the-counter drugs

    Invio: A secure and easy-to-use mobile application that gives immigrants control over how and to whom their remittances are distributed

    Migratio: A safety-focused database of migrants that includes tracking and geomapping features

    Salvaviajes: An SMS/web communication platform for crowdsourcing alerts on migration-related issues within Central America and southern North America.

    Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief at EFE, and Knight Fellow, Stanford University

     

    Readers may be interested to note that the Microsoft Research International Women's Hackathon 2014 is scheduled to take place April 25 to 27, 2014, on university campuses around the world and live at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. At this year's event, participating women students have the opportunity to design a software application to address one of the following challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. For more information or get involved, visit International Women's Hackathon 2014.

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