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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

    Microsoft Research – Inria Joint Centre: inventing today, tomorrow’s world


    When world-class research organizations work together on a long-term basis, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That premise underlies Microsoft Research’s collaborative projects and joint ventures around the globe, including our recently renewed joint research center with Inria (the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation).

    Since its founding in 2006, the Microsoft Research – Inria Joint Centre has innovatively applied computer science and mathematics to a host of scientific challenges, from formal methods for mathematics to distributed systems and security, computer vision and medical imaging, machine learning and big data, and social networks and privacy.

    From 4D cardiac MR images to mathematical components, researchers gather at the Inria Joint Research Centre

    Microsoft Research – Inria includes 100 researchers overall: 40 permanent researchers from Inria, 30 permanent researchers from Microsoft Research, and 30 non-permanent researchers (interns and postdoctoral and PhD students, representing some 23 nationalities). Today, May 19, the Joint Centre continued its quest to use computing to help solve big problems, hosting an event that reported on the ambitious projects currently underway (see the list later in this blog). The event also featured the following keynotes from some of the world’s foremost computing experts, including Jeanette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, who gave an inspiring presentation on how the joint research center is important to science, technology and society.

    Jeanette Wing, corporate vice president Microsoft Research
    Jeanette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research

    • Thinking For Programmers: Rising Above the Code”: Leslie Lamport, this year’s Turing Award winner and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, discussed the need for programmers to create extremely rigorous specifications before coding complex systems, particularly concurrent and distributed systems.
    • “Machine learning for Brain Imaging: from pattern analysis to brain atlases”: Bertrand Thirion, director of research at the Joint Centre, spoke about using machine learning to extract patterns of neurological activity that can lead to a functional atlas of the brain.
    • Formal components for the odd order theorem”: Georges Gonthier, principal researcher and team leader at Inria, focused on how to combine software engineering, programming language, and formal logic techniques to package formal mathematical theories into components that lend themselves to computer-checked formalization of results.
    • Big Learning: New Challenges and Opportunities”: Francis Bach, a senior researcher and team leader at Inria, reviewed recent developments in machine learning—such as improvements in algorithm speed and the use of generalized learning representations—that are tailored to solving modern large-scale problems.

    Georges Gonthier, principal researcher and team leader at InriaGeorges Gonthier, principal researcher and team leader at Inria 

    Bertrand Thirion, director of research at the Joint Centre Bertrand Thirion, director of research at the Joint Centre

    The Joint Centre is currently focusing on the following projects:

    Projects on formal methods and their applications

    • Mathematical Components aims to develop the ability of existing proof assistants, such as Coq, to automatically check difficult proofs in mathematics.
    • Temporal Logic of Actions for Proof System addresses challenges in certifying correct behavior of distributed and concurrent systems, in which there is no certainty as to when distinct components will interact.
    • Secure Computing develops new languages and associated certification tools to prove that implementations of cryptographic protocols are sound, thereby improving the security of Internet transactions.

    Projects on machine learning and big data

    • Large-scale Structured Machine Learning develops new methods for achieving efficient trade-offs between statistical accuracy and computational cost. It also develops algorithms that efficiently trade off exploration with exploitation in active learning scenarios.
    • Z-Cloud Workflows develops solutions for efficiently instantiating workflows in a cloud-computing environment by mapping tasks of the workflow to specific machines. It conjointly optimizes the replication of data within the cloud computing nodes.
    • Interactive Network Visualization develops tools for interacting with and visualizing data that arises from both online social networks and brain imagery, with a particular emphasis on time series.
    • White Box Search-Based Software Engineering uses machine learning to improve software engineering by automatically determining software parameters and assisting developers through the recommendation of code snippets.

    Projects on computer vision and medical imaging

    • Video Understanding aims to extract rich features automatically from large video catalogues, in order to support semantically rich queries when searching such catalogues.
    • Medilearn develops personalized models that assist in the diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions. It also focuses on identification of human brain activation patterns induced by conducting specific cognitive tasks.

    Projects on social networks and privacy

    • Social Information Networks develops efficient recommendation of contacts and contents to users of online social networks. It also addresses the design of reward schemes for incentivizing efficient filtering of information by users.
    • Privacy-Friendly Services and Apps develops means for users to protect their private information, such as geo-localization traces, while preserving the ability of applications to provide value-added services.

    All told, this one-day event captured the essence of the valuable research taking place at the Microsoft Research – Inria Joint Research Centre, and it points out the value of our long-term investments in collaborative ventures.

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

    —Pierre-Louis Xech, Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Centre Deputy Director, Microsoft France


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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Software promises timely diagnosis of pneumonia in ICU patients


    The advent of electronic medical records is transforming the care of patients in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices around the world. Offering complete documentation of a patient’s medical history, digitized records are improving the accuracy of diagnoses and the continuity of patient care, which, in turn, means improved patient outcomes.

    Electronic medical records can be especially useful in the diagnosis of pneumonia, which has a nasty habit of appearing after a patient has been hospitalized in the intensive care unit (ICU). Currently, such diagnoses are made by consensus, after a thorough chart review of the patient’s medical tests and clinical notes.

    This means that a physician must comb through hand-written records and copious test results to reach the correct diagnosis—a time-consuming, resource-intensive process. Now, my colleagues and I at the University of Washington, in collaboration with Microsoft researcher Lucy Vanderwende and using Microsoft Research Splat (Statistical Parsing and Linguistic Analysis Toolkit), have created deCIPHER, a project that demonstrates the potential to use natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to diagnose such critical illnesses automatically from the patient’s electronic medical records.

    We studied the diagnosis of pneumonia in approximately 100 patients being treated in the ICU at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. By using the electronic medical records of these patients—whose pneumonia diagnoses had already been established by clinical consensus—we employed state-of-the-art NLP tools from Microsoft to identify the critical clinical information. We then ran that data through a machine-learning framework to see if the software could be trained to correctly diagnose the pneumonia cases based solely on an automated review of the digital medical records. The results were so promising—the software achieved a correct diagnosis with correct time-of-onset for positive cases in 84 percent of the patients—that our clinical collaborators are considering the addition of our pneumonia-detection models to the dashboard they use to monitor ICU patients.

    Meliha Yetisgen, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics, University of Washington

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Asian students shine during the International Women’s Hackathon


    Throughout the world, women are vastly underrepresented in computer science and technology fields. In Asia, females make up only 20 percent of the computer science workforce—a situation that is unlikely to change unless we can convince girls that careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are not just appropriate but highly rewarding pursuits for women.

    It was with this goal in mind that Microsoft Research sponsored its 2014 International Women’s Hackathon, a three-day event that connected women on college campuses around the world, including those in Korea and Japan. The sponsors identified five goals for the event:

    1. To connect women from universities across the world
    2. To build tools to help NGOs make an impact for women
    3. To be part of a movement that encourages and cultivates innovative women globally
    4. To gain international visibility
    5. To help women learn programming and gain experience in designing user-friendly applications

    International Women’s Hackathon in Korea
    International Women’s Hackathon in Korea

    In Korea, where the STEM fields are recognized as a driving force in economic growth, Yonsei University served as the host campus for the International Women’s Hackathon. More than 50 female students from 10 major universities—including Yonsei University, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), and Ewha Womans University—gathered on Yonsei’s International campus in Songdo, working tirelessly to develop their skills in planning and developing applications. The participants not only planned their projects and wrote the code, they also pitched their ideas via video presentations. Their innovative projects included apps that promoted women’s networking, science education for women, STEM education in general, as well as an app that prevents drivers from texting while they’re behind the wheel.

    A panel of five judges, all highly regarded professors in IT-related research areas, selected the top two teams and also conferred an award for the team with the best original idea. The first prize went to Yonsei University’s Bamsaem-Sarang team. (The name means, “loves working overnight,” which tells you something about their dedication to the project!) This team developed an app called Zookeeper, which teaches coding via an easy-to-use, Sudoku-like game. The app’s use of “gamified” learning—borrowing techniques that have been employed to teach Korean youngsters English—makes learning fun rather than drudgery. Youngseon Na, a member of the winning team, spoke about the importance of the impact of the women’s hackathon. “Some of my friends have doubted whether I could succeed in science and engineering because I’m a woman, but I don’t think gender matters if I’m happy and doing what I want. I felt really happy during this competition—excited to be coding under a 24-hour deadline, and enjoying the experience of self-development.”

    The winning Bamsaem-Sarang team: Yeong-seon Na, Hyo-jeong Kim, Hong-ju Lee, and Gwang-seon Kim (mentor)
    The winning Bamsaem-Sarang team: Yeong-seon Na, Hyo-jeong Kim, Hong-ju Lee, and Gwang-seon Kim (mentor)

    Meanwhile, in Japan, the International Women’s Hackathon was hosted at Ochanomizu University, one of the country’s most prestigious women’s universities. Women graduates and undergraduates from several Japanese universities, including a contingent from Waseda University and Tokyo Institute of Technology, gathered for the event. On day one, they were treated to a keynote address from Dr. Hitomi Tsujita, an alumna of Ochanomizu University and the founder and CEO of an outsourcing startup. She motivated the students, telling them of her experiences as a visiting researcher at Georgia Tech in the United States and describing how she achieves work-life balance as the mother of two and the CEO of a startup.

    International Women’s Hackathon in Japan
    International Women’s Hackathon in Japan

    After getting to know one another, the attendees formed themselves into five teams and then spent the remainder of day one and all of day two hacking away at their projects. On day three, a panel of three eminent professors selected Team Kudaran as the overall winner, for their creation of COSMOS the Witch Girl, an authoring tool that enables teachers to create simple games and stories that teach science concepts. The judges were especially impressed by the quality and scalability of the application.

    Winning Kudaran team
    Winning Kudaran team

    Those of us at Microsoft Research are very pleased to have played a role in helping young women around the world see the potential in computing and technology careers. The Korean and Japanese participation in the International Women’s Hackathon helped excite female students about science and engineering and set the stage for the further cultivation of innovative, technology-minded women leaders.

    —Miran Lee, Principal Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

    —Noboru Kuno, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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