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Twenty years ago, the film Hackers gave that term a shady, illicit meaning. Now, geeks around the world are taking back the term “hacker,” restoring its original connotations of creativity and intellectual curiosity. Nowhere was that restoration more apparent than at the Microsoft Student Summer Camp 2015, held August 17–20 at Xi’an Jiaotong University (in the Shaanxi province of China), where the theme was “Set sail, geeks!”
Microsoft Summer Camp 2015 marked the start of Microsoft Student Club 2.0.
The camp, which marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Microsoft Student Club in China, brought together 132 students from 34 universities across the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In addition to embracing the hacker ethos, the camp opened a new chapter in the history of the club—including a new name: Microsoft Student Club 2.0. The designation 2.0 reflects some big changes, many of which were introduced at this year's Summer Camp.
Tim Pan, director of University Relations at Microsoft Research Asia, opened the Summer Camp with a keynote that exhorted the campers to adopt the hacker spirit. He then invited two students on stage to talk about their experiences with hacking and creating student projects.
Tim Pan, director of University Relations at Microsoft Research Asia, chats with a camper about his student project.
The students then took part in technical salons, where Microsoft employees introduced them to the latest Microsoft technologies, including Windows 10, Cortana, XiaoIce, Project Oxford, Minecraft, and HoloLens—the very technologies that have fueled some of Microsoft's own most recent hacking-inspired projects. Xiaowu Hu, an engineer from the Windows team, even taught students how to use the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) to develop apps that work across multiple devices.
Coinciding with Microsoft’s annual hackathon for employees, the Summer Camp hosted its own vibrant hackathon, challenging the students to create a project proposal to address some “pain point” of everyday life. The students rose to the occasion, coming up with projects that took on problems in advertising, art, social gaming, photography, and health, to name just a few of the themes.
For example, the bAd (Best Advertisement) project, created by students from Taiwan University, proposed using facial and speech recognition, along with artificial intelligence, to build an advertising platform that targets its messages to specific viewers. In the final presentations, bAd’s Wu Sheng and Hou Haiqi shared their passion and described the challenges in designing their idea. After working on one concept for nearly an entire day, they discovered it already existed. They had to start over, and in the end they came up with a creative and exciting project.
Students from Hong Kong and Taiwan celebrate the hacker spirit.
The hacker spirit was likewise embodied by a team of students from three Chinese universities, who decided to address what’s become an all-too-common experience these days: people so engaged with their mobile phones that they ignore the friends they’re with in the real world. To address this issue, they designed “Together,” a cooperative game to enhance communication and social interaction, thereby promoting an active, enthusiastic experience with the people in your actual physical location.
A member of the Together project explains the team’s innovative concept for promoting real-world social interactions. The team was composed of students from South China University of Technology, Northeast University, and Sun Yat-Sen University.
Members of Student Club 2.0 won't just have access to new, flexible, open technology, they'll also have opportunities to interact with Microsoft employees, who will be engaging more directly with students in advisory and mentoring capacities. In addition, each club chapter will have access to a redesigned website that features robust resources for members. The Product Experience section, for example, will let students beta test new Microsoft products and features and provide feedback to the engineers behind the technology. The relaunched website also includes an Offline Activities section, where individual chapters can plan and share their events and news, and an Online Course section, which provides members access to webinars on a range of topics.
Finally, Student Club 2.0 chapters and their members can now earn special opportunities and prizes. The most active chapters and members will receive awards each year. Moreover, every chapter will be encouraged to develop an annual project to submit to the Imagine Cup or other competitions. At the end of the year, the top 10 Student Club projects will be hand-selected for review and recognition by a team of Microsoft leaders.
Since its inception in 2000, the club has aimed to inspire students to pursue innovative and entrepreneurial futures. The 2.0 incarnation preserves these aims and adds the goal of providing students with a clear understanding of the new, ever-changing tech field, enabling them to enter the workforce informed, experienced, and with a network of likeminded peers and mentors to support them. We look forward to the next 15 years, as today’s 2.0 students apply their hacker spirit to create tomorrow’s transformations.
Students and Microsoft employees salute the end of a very successful Summer Camp 2015.
—Guobin Wu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research
Stuart, a 66-year-old man with diabetes, felt lousy—constantly fatigued, nauseated, and short of breath after just the slightest exertion. His daughter, worried by his increasing frailty, took him to the emergency room at the local hospital. Her concern was amply justified: Stuart was suffering from heart failure. Like 5.1 million other Americans each year who suffer from heart failure, he was admitted to the hospital to treat this serious, often life-threatening condition. The caring medical team stabilized his condition, and Stuart left the hospital after 10 days, glad to be home with words of advice and a few medications. Within a month he was back, once again fatigued, and facing a second episode.
Stuart’s story is far from rare. Hospital readmissions for chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure (CHF) are both common and very costly. Studies conducted in the United States indicate that nearly 20% of Medicare patients who are hospitalized for chronic conditions are often readmitted within 30 days. Experts at Edifecs indicate that it costs Medicare—and US taxpayers—about $26 billion a year, and often a large majority of these readmissions are actually considered avoidable with accurate prioritization and personalized care protocols. Readmission-related costs have become so onerous that the Affordable Care Act includes financial rewards and penalties to deal with the readmission problem. Hospitals that reduce their readmission rates receive financial incentives; those that do not, lose reimbursement and get penalized.
Holistic tools that can reliably predict heart-failure readmissions—taking into account all aspects of each patient’s condition and risk factors—would significantly help patients and hospitals. The growth in the use of electronic patient records has recently offered the potential for such analysis, but little had been done to harness the collective intelligence contained in hospital patient records augmented with other data sources.
By introducing cloud computing technology and applying some of the latest advances in machine learning techniques, researchers are rapidly changing this situation.
One leading example of this is RaaS (Readmission Score as a Service), a platform that was developed by the University of Washington (UW) Tacoma’s Center for Data Science. RaaS compares a patient’s medical information to a database of heart-failure outcomes, using advanced machine learning techniques to arrive at a risk-of-readmission factor as well as corresponding actionable guidelines for the patient-provider team. Those patients identified with a high risk receive additional treatment: the goal is to reduce their likelihood of readmission and produce overall healthier outcomes across all stages of the patient care continuum.
The hundreds of machine learning models of RaaS are developed by using both the R machine learning language, and Microsoft Azure Machine Learning. This chronic care management predictive platform relies on historical patient data from multiple sources. These sources include anonymized electronic medical records, claims, labs, medications, and psycho-social factors, all labeled with observed outcomes that the machine learning models access and share in sync to provide continuous monitoring for personalized patient alerts.
RaaS is available as an on-premises service as well as via the cloud by using Azure Machine Learning web services and the Azure-based Zementis Adapa scoring engine to make predictions for patients. When deployed using Azure Cloud Services, RaaS performs data preparation at scale.
The UW Center for Data Science team began developing initial models in collaboration with MultiCare Health System in March 2012, using just two on-premises servers. The maintenance, frequent updates, and down times of these on-premises servers posed an ongoing problem, and scalability issues limited the scope of the project by affecting the speed of data exploration and machine learning.
About a year and a half ago, the team applied for and was awarded an Azure for Research grant, taking advantage of the Microsoft Research program that offers training and awards of computing resources to qualified institutions that use the cloud to advance scientific discovery. The award enabled the Center for Data Science team to scale up the project and create a robust prediction engine that generates a readmission risk factor score for patients at every stage of their hospital care: post-admission, pre-discharge, and post-discharge.
The RaaS platform at MultiCare Health enables the care management team to view an electronic dashboard that shows heart-failure patients’ risks of readmission. UW Medicine Cardiology is now collaborating with the Center for Data Science team to study the efficacy of predictive models for augmenting care management guidelines by using machine learning.
—Daron Green, Deputy Managing Director, Microsoft Research—Gregory Wood, MD, UW Medicine Cardiology
In the 1999 American film Bicentennial Man, the late Robin Williams played a robot who strives to achieve the physical, social and legal status of a human being. The character’s growing language capabilities—his capacity to communicate fluently with his human family—proved crucial in his quest. But long before Williams donned his robot suit, people were dreaming about talking with machines naturally, conversing with them as they would with another person.
Earlier this year, Microsoft Korea hosted a roundtable on “Research on Signal Processing and Speech,” describing recent work on human-machine natural language communication. The research, a collaborative effort between Yonsei University and Microsoft Research, was led by Professor Hong-Goo Kang of the Yonsei’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Its ultimate goal is to make natural conversation between humans and machines possible.
The roundtable highlighted signal processing and speech research using DNNs.(pictured in bottom row: Professor Hong-goo Kang, Yonsei University [left], and Miran Lee, Microsoft Research [right])
The team focused on voice synthesis and text-to-speech (TTS) conversion, two elements crucial in achieving fluent, natural sounding machine speech. The mechanical, depersonalized voice of machines had been a limitation of previous TTS technologies, according to Kang, which is why the team focused on TTS technology based on deep neural networks (DNNs). DNNs attempt to replicate the neural network of the human brain, particularly the way neurons communicate with one another. By so doing, DNN facilitates a sophisticated type of machine learning that researchers call deep learning. Deep learning should allow machines to understand human speech and respond more relevantly and with a more natural sounding voice.
“The copyright of the research result belongs to me, but other IT companies and everyone else can share it,” said Kang. “It’s hard to conduct this kind of long-term project with just the resources in academia. Therefore, we must work with companies, which is why collaboration with Microsoft Research was so meaningful.” Microsoft Research also offered an internship to one of Kang’s students, who subsequently published his research and presented it at an international conference.
This collaboration is indicative of our commitment to create an ecosystem that connects companies and academic institutions, and our ongoing efforts to foster talented young computer-science researchers.
—Miran Lee, Principal Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research