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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

    Young coders compete in 2015 Beauty of Programming

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    On May 27, 2015, Suzhou, a historic, scenic city in southeast China, hosted this year’s finals of the Beauty of Programming (BoP) competition, a creative contest among talented young programmers. Sponsored by Microsoft in collaboration with IEEE, BoP encourages contestants to use their programming skills to solve practical problems.

    With a theme of Artificial Intelligence (AI), BoP 2015 attracted more than 22,000 online contestants from more than 150 universities. Code Hunt, a game in which players demonstrate their coding skills by solving intriguing puzzles, served as one of two online challenges—hihoCodeer was the other—that narrowed the field to the top performers.

    BoP 2015 attracted more than 22,000 online contestants from more than 150 universities.
    BoP 2015 attracted more than 22,000 online contestants from more than 150 universities.

    Fifty students made it to the final round in Suzhou, where they undertook either of two challenges designed by Microsoft employees. One, called Cortana Next, challenged contestants to create a voice assistant by using APIs from Project Oxford. The other, named News Recommendation, asked the participants to sort out the most valuable news from 3,000 items.

    Feihu Tang of Harbin Institute of Technology and Xiaoxu Guo from Shanghai Jiao Tong University earned first place. They chose the Cortana Next challenge and developed a travel app they named RainbowGO, which uses speech recognition, natural language processing and scenario analysis to turn Cortana into a proficient trip adviser. RainbowGO analyzes a traveler’s departure and destination sites to provide time conversions and information on round-trip tickets, nearby attractions and public transportation. Tang hopes to parlay his experience at BoP into someday starting his own business.

    Feihu Tang demonstrates his app to Microsoft employees, including Yongdong Wang, CTO, Microsoft Asia R&D (blue shirt in the middle)
    Feihu Tang demonstrates his app to Microsoft employees, including Yongdong Wang, CTO, Microsoft Asia R&D (blue shirt in the middle)

    Xiaoqi Chen of Tsinghua University won second place for his News Recommendation app that uses the text segmentation API from the ltp-cloud.com and SVM algorithm to sort out the most valuable news. Chen and his partner, Junyan Li from Chinese University of Hong Kong, also took one of the two awards for Best Demo.

    “I’m really excited by coding under a 12-hour deadline to solve a certain problem, and I enjoy the experience of pair programming,” said Chen, who was competing in his second BoP. He praised the contest as a chance to partner with an accomplished programmer.

    Junyan Li (left) and his partner Xiaoqi Chen (right), who was competing in his second BoP and got second place this time.
    Junyan Li (left) and his partner Xiaoqi Chen (right), who was competing in his
    second BoP and got second place this time.

    Chen adds that he was eager to compete against peers from India, which brings up an important aspect of this year’s BoP. The competition has always sought contestants with diverse backgrounds, but this year marked the first time that it included participants from India and Japan. Four enthusiastic contestants from Japan and India won the Best Team Award, and the Indian team also took home one of two Best Demo Awards.

    Winners of Best Team and Best Demo awards

    “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. The competition was very well organized and challenging. It’s such a good format and maybe it can go to the next level, like having more foreign teams in the future,” said Chirantan Mahipal, one of the winners from India.

    “We hope to include more students from other countries in future BoP contests,” said Xin Ma, a senior research program manager at Microsoft Research Asia. “They are passionate about programming and add a lot to the brainstorming; after all, programming has no language barrier.”

    Haoyong Zhang, a principal development manager at Microsoft’s Suzhou Center, noted that recent developments in the mobile Internet, big data and natural language processing contributed to the 2015 BoP theme of AI. “I hope contestants broadened their horizons through BoP, contemplating the revolutionary changes that ‘geek power’ and AI can make in the real world.”

    Although the Beauty of Programming 2015 contest has ended, the contestants’ passion for computer programming remains. These talented young programmers are sure to have more opportunities to engage in innovative projects. We at Microsoft derive inspiration and motivation from the enthusiasm of these aspiring IT developers.

    The 50 contestants who made it to the final BoP 2015 round in Suzhou
    The 50 contestants who made it to the final BoP 2015 round in Suzhou

    —Guobin Wu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Exploring the frontiers of computing

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    The sun shone brightly in Redmond yesterday, matching the intensity of 600 experts—each anticipating the sharing and acquisition of computing research knowledge—gathered in the Microsoft Conference Center for day one of the 2015 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. These days, it is common for most audiences to half listen, heads down, focused on their tablets and smartphones—the very devices that have emanated from their collective labors. I was comforted to see that this was not the case during the keynotes, panel discussions, and topic breakout sessions that filled the day.

    P. Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research, kicks off the 2015 Faculty Summit
    P. Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research, kicked off the 2015 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit.

    Diversity is the word that comes to mind as I look back over the first day of the event. Diversity in that the participants represent the full breadth of computing disciplines, coming from more than 120 institutions and 20 countries, and that they discussed a wide range of topics: from Internet governance to application design, the past and future of AI and the role of open source in research.

    More importantly to me, diversity in the human sense received full attention in the session, "How to Attract More Diverse Researchers". The panel initiated a candid discussion on disabilities, ethnic and gender diversity in computer science and computer engineering departments. The panel presented some sobering numbers on how far we are from addressing this issue. The challenges are clear, as industry and academia have a distinct role in promoting greater diversity.


    Jeannette Wing, corporate VP of Microsoft Research, presented the opening keynote, "Microsoft’s Unique Role in the Computing Research Ecosystem"

    Diversity was complimented by breadth, as we reached out to the entire world of computer scientists and enthusiasts with live streaming of some of the day’s key events. The live webcast kicked off with the opening keynote, in which Jeanette Wing, corporate VP of Microsoft Research, echoed a theme that has been central to every Microsoft Research Faculty Summit (this is our sixteenth annual summit, by the way): the importance of research collaboration with academia to Microsoft.

    This was supported by new opportunities for academia, which Jeannette announced:

    • The Microsoft HoloLens Academic RFP will award five (5) awards consisting of US$100,000 and two HoloLens. All awards are in the form of unrestricted gifts. For full details, visit HoloLensResearch.com.
    • Access this fall to Catapult equipped datacenters, made possible through our partnership with the Texas Advance Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas, Austin. Additionally, we are providing the academic community the ability to conduct hardware research on the field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) through our partnerships with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich).

    Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research, moderated the panel, Progress in AI: Myths, Realities, and Aspirations
    Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research, moderated the panel, "Progress in AI: Myths, Realities, and Aspirations." The panelists, from left to right, included Josh Tenenbaum, Michael Littman, Fei-Fei Li, Oren Etzioni, and Christopher Bishop.

    Following the opening keynote, we were treated to a series of presentations related to artificial intelligence (AI) research: past, present and future. This began with a plenary panel discussion, streamed live, on AI’s myths, realities and aspirations—a discussion that made it clear that while we have advanced a long way since our initial explorations into AI, we’ve also opened up new horizons that will provide rich challenges for many generations of researchers. I will let you decide for yourself, as the panel discussion and Jeanette Wing’s keynote are already available on demand.

    Today will be another full day of exploring the latest research trends in computing. We are again streaming important portions of the day’s events, starting with a keynote from Monica Lam, professor of computer science at Stanford University. Lam’s keynote, “A Revolution against Big-Brother Social Networks,” discusses her work with Omlet, an open messaging service and distributed computing platform that has been distributed to millions of phones.

    Later in the day, we will stream the Faculty Summit’s closing keynote from Peter Lee, corporate VP at Microsoft Research. His talk will explore the nature of research, with an emphasis on the importance of collaboration and the role of innovation.

    I hope you’ll join us online.

    Harold Javid, Director of Academic Outreach, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    The 2015 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit breaks records

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    Walking into the Microsoft Conference Center this morning, I could feel the excitement in the air as 600 academics and researchers started meeting up for the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Redmond, Washington. High on the agenda of this, our sixteenth annual Faculty Summit, are keynotes by top researchers and executives at Microsoft, and we are delighted to announce that these will be streamed live over the course of two days. Also to be streamed is “Progress in AI: Myths, Realities, and Aspirations,” a panel discussion on the past, present and future of artificial intelligence, led by Eric Horvitz, managing director and distinguished scientist at Microsoft Research Redmond.

    Keynotes by top researchers and executives at Microsoft will be streamed live over the course of two days.
    Keynotes by top researchers and executives at Microsoft will be streamed live over the course of two days.

    Then it is into the summit’s four topic tracks, with 70 top speakers from around the world, a record for this event. Broadly speaking, the tracks cover artificial intelligence, devices, society and software, offering something for everyone throughout the day. As one of the program chairs, I am always heartened at the enthusiasm and expertise brought to the summit by Microsoft researchers and the academics, who make up half the speakers. We know we are going to be transported into the future when Session Chair Krysta Svore and speakers from MIT, ETHZ and Microsoft explore “What Can We Solve with a Quantum Computer?” or when Jaron Lanier's panel session examines the potential of Microsoft HoloLens in “The Holoscene: Virtual and Mixed Reality.” Then we will be back squarely in the present, when Bill Buxton and Jeff Han lead a group exploring “Digital Ink and Touch on NextGen Devices,” no doubt with special reference to Microsoft’s new large touch device, the Surface Hub. A session I won’t want to miss is “Design Verification: Treating Networks Like Programs or Chips,” which deftly pairs up software engineering and networking experts from Cornell, Princeton, the Naval Postgraduate School and Microsoft.

    There are many other interesting sessions, and of course one cannot attend them all, so I am glad that all sessions will be available to view online after the event.

    This year's Research Showcase will feature a record-breaking 47 demos and information booths.
    This year's Research Showcase will feature a record-breaking 47 demos
    and information booths.

    Meanwhile, as at any large event, people are mingling and networking and sounding out potential collaborations. Academics are always keen to know how to best collaborate with us and take advantage of every opportunity; to that end, the Research Showcase on day two of the summit will include booths devoted to our latest announcements and our flagship programs, such as internships and scholarships. And speaking of this year’s showcase, it’s another summit record—we have 47 demos and information booths—and they are all linked online, so you can find out about them, even if you cannot attend.

    And whether you’re at the event or not, be sure to check out Microsoft’s open source projects for academics and free data science datasets for use in your research.

    For now, it is into the fray, and over to the live streaming!

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computing at Microsoft Research and Co-chair of the 2015 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit

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