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June, 2012

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.

June, 2012

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New Research Grants Aim at Combating Human Trafficking

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    New Research Grants Aim at Combating Human Trafficking

    In December 2011, Dr. danah boyd and I were pleased to announce an RFP (request for proposal), funded by the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Research, for projects that investigate the role of technology in the human trafficking of minors in the United States. In that announcement, we provided a framework for thinking about the intersections between technology and human trafficking. Today, June 13, 2012, I’m happy to announce that the recipients of these funds have been selected. After reviewing many promising proposals, we have allocated a total grant of US$185,000 among six proposals, each of which involves unique, imperative research. We are excited about the progress we expect to make in understanding the role of technology in human trafficking with the work of these amazing researchers. The recipients are:

    • Dr. Nicole Bryan, Dr. Ross Malaga, and Dr. Sasha Poucki of Montclair State University and Dr. Rachel Swaner of the Center for Court Innovation, for research on how networked technologies, including the Internet, mobile phones, and social media, are used by “johns” to procure children for sexual purposes.
    • Dr. Susan McIntyre of Calgary, Alberta; Dr. Dawne Clark of Mount Royal University; and Norm Lewis, research assistant at Mount Royal University, for research on the role of technology in the recruiting, buying, and selling of victims in the sex trafficking industry.
    • Professor Mary G. Leary of the Catholic University of America, for a comprehensive assessment of judicial opinions on child sex trafficking issued over the last 10 years.
    • Dr. Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, for research on technology’s role in facilitating child sex trafficking and understanding the benefits and obstacles for law enforcement.
    • Dr. Jennifer Musto of Rice University, for research on how law enforcement leverages the benefits—and overcomes the obstacles—of using technology in combating the trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation.
    • Dr. Anna W. Shavers, Dr. Dwayne Ball, Professor Matt Waite, Professor Sriyani Tidball, and Dr. David Keck of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for research into identifying the clandestine language that is used in web advertising of child sex trafficking and conceptualizing intelligent software to identify such online advertisements.

    Today, human trafficking stands the fastest growing criminal industry in the world; in fact, this form of modern-day slavery has the dubious distinction of ranking alongside the trade in illegal arms as the second-largest international criminal industry, trailing only drug dealing. The research funded by these grants is sorely needed.
     
    It is very encouraging to see the significant actions taken against this heinous crime in the past year. Government agencies, NGOs, advocacy organizations, and corporations are working to increase awareness, research, and action in this area. One area all these organizations highlight is the need for more data and rigorous research on the extent of the human-trafficking problem, which includes understanding technology’s role in human trafficking. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of verifiable data on exactly how technology is abetting the crime—or how technology might be used to combat it.

    The Microsoft Digital Crime Unit and Microsoft Research hope to make a difference by funding research that will yield valuable data about the role that technology plays in child sex trafficking, with the ultimate goal of developing new disruptive approaches and innovations to address the problem. As a technology service provider, Microsoft has a stake in ensuring that its technologies are not contributing to crime, particularly crimes against children. We hope to use the findings and insights from these projects to drive advancements in the fight against trafficking.

    As the lead for Microsoft Research Connections’ initiative on Growing Women in Computing, I strongly believe that support of research into technology’s role in societal issues will excite a new generation of women about the potential of careers in computer science. Today, only approximately 1,800 women graduate from computer science programs in the United States; we need to inspire more young women to pursue careers in the field and make breakthroughs in areas that are relevant to women. Their research will not only help us understand how to begin addressing the crime of human trafficking, but will also inspire more young women to pursue careers where they can make a positive impact in society. These women will help us solve societal problems and use technology in ways we can’t imagine.

    I want to congratulate the recipients cited above, and I look forward to building a rigorous academic community of social scientists, economists, business researchers, legal researchers, psychologists, and computer scientist to help solve the scourge of human trafficking.

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

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    On the Road with ChronoZoom

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    ChronoZoom travels the world

    It’s been a busy month for the ChronoZoom team, as we’ve zoomed (literally) around the world promoting this amazing tool. For those of you who are coming in late, here’s a little background: ChronoZoom is an open-source community project dedicated to visualizing the history of everything. As such, it seeks to bridge the gap between the humanities and sciences and to enable a nearly inexhaustible repository of readily understandable and easily navigable information. By using Big History as the storyline, we hope to achieve a unified, interdisciplinary understanding of the history of the cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity, enabling users to understand the history of everything. Ambitious? Sure. But we’re committed to following the maxim of visionary urban planner Daniel Burnham, who said, “Make no little plans.”

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    Now, let me get back to the road story. Last month, I traveled to South Korea to launch ChronoZoom in Asia at the Asian Association of World Historians Conference. In Korea, I had the opportunity to represent the ChronoZoom team during a panel discussion about the “Evolution of Big History,” which was chaired by the father of Big History, David Christian of Macquarie University (check out his TED talk on Big History). Other participants included Big History leaders Craig Benjamin of Grand Valley State University, Cynthia Brown of Dominican University, Yue Sun of Capital Normal University, and Seohyung Kim of Ewha Womans University. This session served as a springboard for engaging the community of world historians in building out Asian histories in ChronoZoom. While in Korea, I was also excited to learn about pilot high school courses on Big History, some of which are using ChronoZoom in the classroom already!

    Last week, my ChronoZoom teammate, Michael Zyskowski, headed to Mexico to launch ChronoZoom in Latin America at the 2012 Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit. One of the highlights of the summit was the unveiling of a ChronoZoom timeline on Mayan history, covering the rise and fall of Mayan civilization and the ongoing history of ethnic Mayan identity. The content for this timeline was created by Felipe Gaytan and Camina Murillo from La Salle University in Mexico, and the results will, we are sure, encourage researchers to build additional tours and timelines of relevance to Latin America.

    As faithful readers of this blog know, ChronoZoom has been a joint effort of the University of California at Berkeley, which provided content and overall vision; Moscow State University, which authored 80 percent of the software; the Outercurve Foundation, which contributed intellectual property governance; and Microsoft Research Connections, which delivered technical expertise and collaboration oversight. And this month, we are excited to be adding the University of Washington iSchool, which will focus on content strategy and the data management taxonomy.

    As our trips to Asia and Latin America demonstrate, we are actively seeking additional participants for this community project. Professor Walter Alvarez and Roland Saekow of the University of California at Berkeley have been touring various universities with me, seeking partners for ChronoZoom’s ambitious goals. In particular, we are looking for help from computer science departments and from scholars in the humanities and the sciences. Here, in a nutshell, is what we’re seeking:

    From computer science researchers and students: we need you to help us build the features and capabilities required for ChronoZoom to function optimally. In particular, we are seeking a computer science department to lead the technical side of the project and organize the community in collaboration with Microsoft Research. We are also looking for computer science departments to help us solve several difficult technical challenges involving content visualization, data management, and machine learning.

    From professors, researchers, and students in the humanities and sciences: we need subject matter experts who can work with us to make ChronoZoom the premier platform for chronicling the history of the humanities and the sciences, and for showing how these fields have cross-pollinated one another. We want your research, lectures, and content to be present in ChronoZoom, where this information will come to life and be shared with students, educators, and researchers around the world. We also seek your feedback and help in shaping the features and capabilities that will make ChronoZoom a great teaching and learning tool.

    You can find more details about these challenges in the “Big Questions” section of our ChronoZoom page. And in the “Potential Future Features” section, you’ll see where we’d like to take ChronoZoom in the months and years ahead.

    If you are interested in partnering with us, please contact ChronoZoomProject@microsoft.com.

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

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    Summit Illuminates Computer Science Research in Latin America

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    I’m back home after an exciting and inspiring Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit, which took place in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, from May 23 to 25. The 2012 Latin American Faculty Summit marked the eighth edition of a research event that started as my “brainchild” in 2005. That first summit was held in Embu, a small town near the city of São Paulo, with a modest gathering of researchers mainly from Brazil. This fascinating journey continued with a sequence of annual events, each one raising the bar over the last. Over the years, the summits have taken full advantage of the beauty and variety of Latin America, being held in such fantastic locations as Guadalajara, Mexico; Gamboa, Panama; Cardales, Argentina; Guaruja, Brazil; Cartagena, Colombia; and finally the stunning Riviera Maya in Mexico.

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    More than that, however, the summits have taken advantage of the outstanding intellectual resources of Latin America. In the process, what began as a simple academic gathering has evolved into a premier research event that brings together representatives from academia, government, and industry. The summits are abuzz with high-powered participants, all eager to apply computer science to global challenges in disciplines as diverse as healthcare, energy, the environment, education, and sociology. Government participation has been solidified through formal partnerships with national research funding agencies, including SENACYT from Panama, FAPESP from Brazil, COLCIENCIAS from Colombia, and CONACYT from Mexico. Several summits were even inaugurated by the president of the host country, including the events in Panama, Argentina, and Colombia.

    As I look back over the just-concluded event, three highlights stand out. First, we were extremely honored that CONACYT agreed to partner with Microsoft Research in hosting this summit. This partnership ensured the participation of many prominent Mexican researchers, who presented their projects in the CONACYT Thematic Networks research track. Moreover, this partnership has generated several opportunities for collaboration between Microsoft Research and Mexican researchers.

    The second highlight was the presence of graduate students from Mexico, who in addition to attending the main event, also participated in three pre-event software engineering workshops. They greatly impressed the researchers from Microsoft with very cool demos that were created by using TouchDevelop technology. One of these students, Alisa Zhila from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), recently was honored as a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow. We were ecstatic that the summit could contribute to shaping a new generation of computer scientists in Mexico.

    The third highlight has to be the location. While summit attendees certainly enjoyed the scenic and tranquil beauty of the magnificent Riviera Maya, the local community also benefitted from the summit:  through invitations to participate in the event and also through their active involvement in projects that may help preserve the local cultural legacy. Summit discussions explored opportunities to involve local researchers and students in the preservation of their cultural heritage, the Mayan language, through Microsoft Translator Hub technology. And yet another important link to the region’s cultural legacy was forged at the summit with the plan to include historical milestones of the Mayan culture in ChronoZoom.

    This summit featured a variety of stimulating keynotes, talks, panels, workshops, and project demonstrations, but most importantly, it gathered people eager to work together to make this world a better place with the help of science and technology. In a very real sense, the event didn’t conclude last week. It will continue on through the substantial number of meetings, projects, collaborations, and agreements that it generated, all of which makes us very proud to say: What a successful and rewarding event!

    Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, Microsoft Research Connections

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