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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    PhD Summer School explores cutting-edge computing

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    Call it the invasion of the computer literati: on the last day of June, 78 PhD students converged on Cambridge, England, to begin five days of networking and knowledge exchanges during the Microsoft Research Cambridge 2014 PhD Summer School, our ninth edition of this annual event. The invited attendees included PhD candidates from universities and research institutions with which Microsoft Research partners—for example, through the Microsoft Azure for Research program—as well as recipients of Microsoft Research PhD Scholarships.

    Attendees of the ninth annual PhD Summer School in Cambridge, England, gathered for a group photo at the University of Cambridge.
    Attendees of the ninth annual PhD Summer School in Cambridge, England, gathered for a group photo at Jesus College Cambridge.

    As always, the topics were timely and the atmosphere electric, as the students interacted with Microsoft researchers, academic experts, and one another. One of the PhD students summed it up nicely, noting that the Summer School is “a fantastic opportunity to meet other researchers and listen to a wealth of experience from many speakers.”

    The Summer School featured more than 20 talks and workshops, including an enchanting keynote from Professor Jon Crowcroft of the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, who used T.H. White’s The Once and Future King as a metaphor for exploring the history and anticipated future of the Internet. Another highlight was the keynote presented by clinical oncologist Raj Jena of the Cambridge Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who delved into the challenges of deciphering complex imaging data in order to deliver effective radiation therapy to cancer patients. An additional crowd-pleaser was the presentation by Dave Yewman, a strategic communications expert with Dash Consulting, who demonstrated how to deliver a fabulous research talk—one that engages the audience and presents even complex topics in a clear, concise, and compelling manner.

    Poster sessions were held during the lunch breaks on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, giving the PhD students an opportunity to exhibit their research and get input from their peers and computer scientists from Microsoft Research and the University of Cambridge. Thursday afternoon’s DemoFest displayed 14 projects that spanned all research groups at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab. Lending a practical note to the agenda, hands-on sessions coached the students on using .NET Gadgeteer to build small electronic devices and showed them how to employ Microsoft Azure to harness the power of cloud computing for research.

    PhD student Dylan Hutchison of Stevens Institute of Technology presented his poster to AMC Turing Award winner Tony Hoare of Microsoft Research Cambridge.
    PhD student Dylan Hutchison of Stevens Institute of Technology presented his poster to ACM Turing Award winner Tony Hoare of Microsoft Research Cambridge.

    Those who appreciate the finer things surely enjoyed the opening day’s high tea at Selwyn College and the formal dinner at Jesus College, which honored the tenth anniversary of the Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) program. Noting the occasion, Andrew Blake, the director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, observed, “This year’s School marks the tenth anniversary of our PhD Scholarship program and underlines our long-term commitment to foster academic relationships in computer science and related fields in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.”

    From lectures, to workshops, to demos, to high tea, the variety of experiences makes the annual Summer School a unique event—as eagerly anticipated by Microsoft researchers as it is by the PhD students. Simon Peyton Jones, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and long-standing speaker at the Summer School, captured this symbiotic essence of the program: “Over the years, I’ve seen the PhD Summer School develop into an important annual event at the Cambridge lab. Students appreciate the exposure to our research, the training, and especially the networking opportunities. For us, the PhD Summer School is an important networking opportunity with PhD students from across Europe and the Middle East, some of whom stay for internships over the summer.”

    Principal Researcher Simon Peyton Jones addressing the students at the ninth PhD Summer School
    Principal Researcher Simon Peyton Jones addressing the students at the ninth PhD
    Summer School

    Many thanks to all the attendees and presenters, who made this year’s Summer School truly memorable.

    Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    How might climate change affect our food supply?

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    How might climate change affect our food supply?It’s no easy question to answer, but prudence demands that we try. Thus, Microsoft and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have teamed up to tackle “food resilience,” one of several themes that make up the White House’s Climate Data Initiative.

    “Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor. “The commitments being announced today answer that call by empowering the U.S. and global agricultural sectors with the tools and information needed to keep food systems strong and secure in a changing climate.”

    The Climate Data Initiative has unleashed a torrent of climate-related data from NOAA, NASA, the US Geological Survey, US Department of Defense, and other federal agencies, including the USDA. These facts and figures, which reside on Data.gov's Climate website, pose a classic “big data” challenge: how to efficiently analyze enormous information sets and share the meaningful insights.

    The overarching goal is to discover the food supply's key vulnerabilities and inherent resiliency to climate change.
    The overarching goal is to discover the food supply's key vulnerabilities and inherent resiliency to climate change.

    Microsoft has posted the USDA datasets to the Microsoft Azure Marketplace (enter search term USDA), and, together with the USDA, we will be sponsoring workshops, webinars, and “appathons” to demonstrate the value of open access data and to promote the development of tools for understanding these datasets. The overarching goal is to encourage data providers, scientists, farmers, food producers and the public to discover the food supply’s key vulnerabilities and inherent resiliency. This predictive information will inform a planning model built on the powerful business intelligence tools that are part of the Microsoft Azure cloud-computing platform, enabling federal agencies, along with the public, access and tools to promote data synthesis with other data sources.

    To advance this effort even further, Microsoft Research is announcing a special Climate Data RFP focused on food resilience in the face of climate change. This RFP offers 12 months of free cloud-computing resources to 20 awardees selected from proposals submitted by September 15, 2014. Each award provides up to 180,000 hours of cloud-computing time and 20 terabytes of cloud storage.

    The award offers 12 months of free cloud-computing resources to 20 awardees selected from proposals submitted by September 15, 2014.The award offers 12 months of free cloud-computing resources to 20 awardees selected from proposals submitted by September 15, 2014.

    To qualify for the awards program, you must be affiliated with an academic institution or non-profit research laboratory. In addition to individual investigator projects, we are interested in projects that will support access to services and data of value to a collaboration or community.

    Your proposal should not exceed three pages in length. It should include resource requirement estimates (number of core, storage requirements, and so forth) for your project. Apply and learn more about the RFP at Food Resilience Climate Data Initiative.

    We encourage all investigators to join with the USDA and us in an effort to understand the impact of climate change on our food supply.

    Dan Fay, Director for Earth, Energy, and Environment, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    From quantum computing to show dogs, Faculty Summit informed and inspired

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    Watch Faculty Summit 2014 now on demand

    The fifteenth annual Microsoft Faculty Summit is over, but you can still experience much of it on demand. I was really inspired and energized by the keynotes, session topics, and discussions—especially meeting, talking to, and hearing from researchers in other areas who I don’t normally see at conferences. The Faculty Summit brought together an amazing mix of 500 academics and Microsoft researchers from a wide range of scientific disciplines—from quantum computing to social science.

    Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Technology and Research group, gave the opening keynote speech. Harry's enthusiasm and excitement was palpable as he discussed the future of Microsoft Research. He was inspired by the number of Microsoft and academia collaborations, reminding us how ideas and technologies flow from our industry-academic collaborations.

    There were many great moments, but I was especially delighted by Project Adam, which did a great job of classifying dogs! The goal of Project Adam is a software system that recognizes any object from an image. Researchers have been working on this really hard problem in deep learning for a long time. Johnson Apacible, principal member of tech staff, Microsoft Research, announced Adam has achieved some pretty astonishing results. It is twice as accurate as and 50 times faster than the prior state of the art in literature. The Microsoft team has trained Adam by using DNA models with more than 40 billion connections—and it's still scaling linearly.

    The team took a whimsical approach to the demonstration, asking Adam to "look" at a series of dogs and identify each individual canine's breed. Adam pulled an almost perfect score, but was stumped by the final dog, an Australian Cobberdog, which turned out to be a mix of five breeds. Adam guessed terrier, one of the dog's lineages. Regardless, Adam was more knowledgeable about the dog breeds than many of us in the audience.

    After the keynote, we got into Hot Topics, starting with Doug Burger, who talked about the second age of computing. Doug defined this period as the ending of Moore’s law and explained how this age offers great opportunities for specialization through more efficient and faster computation. Next, Krysta Svore provided a glimpse into quantum simulation and some exciting results that demonstrate the potential for enormous gains in efficiency. Desney Tan then shared his thoughts about individualized healthcare and monitoring and how we (researchers and computer scientists) need to build systems that facilitate real discovery and new approaches by learning from the massive amounts of data that we can capture with billions of body sensors.

    Mary Gray wrapped up Hot Topics by sharing that we are in a revolutionary moment in social science—and in her field of anthropology in particular. "I think we're at the moment where we can think about crowds and the specificity of individual lives in them, and at the same time, use the computational power of computer science to explore patterns that we've never thought about before," Mary said.

    The Keynote and Hot Topics sessions set a high bar for the rest of the summit. Throughout the two days of the summit, a wide variety of topics engaged and delighted us, with more than 20 sessions that examined devices, cloud computing, crowd sourcing, software engineering, quantum computing, how we feel while we program, and much more. I was intrigued by a study shared by Prof. Keith N. Hampton: it indicates that computing is extending our social relationships. Instead of dropping your high school friends when you move away, they remain in your life forever. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can’t decide.

    While I watched in person, I was delighted that we were able to share the day one keynotes, Hot Topics session, and engaging interview sessions with the online audience, via a live stream.

    You can watch even more of the Faculty Summit now. We have posted more of the keynotes, sessions, interviews, and demos. Visit the Online Event page to view what you missed, or re-watch your favorite sessions.

    Kathryn S. McKinley, Faculty Summit Co-Chair, Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2014

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