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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

    The human touch in computing

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    The following is the last in a series of three blogs on the contributions of the Microsoft Research Asia Joint Lab Program (JLP), which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The JLP brings together the resources of Microsoft Research and major Chinese universities, facilitating collaboration on state-of-the-art research, academic exchange, and talent incubation. This blog focuses on the joint lab operated by Microsoft Research Asia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)—officially, the China Ministry of Education–Microsoft Key Laboratory of Human-Centric Computation and Interface Technologies Laboratory, Chinese University of Hong Kong—which we’ve abbreviated as the CUHK-MSRA joint lab in this blog.

    Computing involves more than sitting at a keyboard writing code. Interactions with computer technology have become an integral part of many everyday activities, from driving a car, to learning new skills, to monitoring one’s health. These scenarios require technology with a human touch—computing that recognizes natural human gestures and voice commands and responds accordingly. Adding that human touch to computing is what distinguishes the CUHK-MSRA joint lab.

    The CUHK-MSRA joint lab started in 2005, and within just a year, it had earned designation as a “key lab,” the highest level of recognition conferred by China’s Ministry of Education (MoE). For 10 years now, CUHK faculty and students have been working with Microsoft Research Asia’s top researchers on vision, speech, multimedia, and other aspects of human-centric computing.

    Professor Helen Meng plays a critical role in directing research at the CUHK-MSRA joint lab.
    Professor Helen Meng plays a critical role in directing research at the
    CUHK-MSRA joint lab.

    Speech recognition and processing is a prime area of research at the CUHK-MSRA joint lab. Professor Helen Meng, the lab’s associate director of research, is currently working closely with Microsoft researcher Frank Soong on a project to develop speech signal processing and phonetic recognition technologies that can identify and analyze speech and voice problems. Once perfected, these technologies could assist speech clinicians in assessing and treating people with speech disorders. Their joint research team includes both CUHK doctoral students and Microsoft Research interns, which typifies the joint lab’s commitment to nurturing talented young computer scientists.

    This research has also helped Soong and fellow Microsoft researcher Yao Qian in modeling the accents of native Mandarin speakers who are learning English. By using cross-lingual text-to-speech (TTS) training, they have mapped the acoustic-phonetic differences between Mandarin and English, a feat that a popular YouTube video highlighted (over a million views!) showing real-time speech-to-speech translation from English to Mandarin in the speaker’s own voice. Now Soong and Professor Meng are co-supervising a doctoral student who is working on the next generation of cross-lingual TTS. Their joint paper will be presented this April at the 2015 IEEE ICASSP International Conference in Brisbane, Australia.

    This project is just one example of the collaborative nature of the CUHK-MSRA joint lab framework, notes Professor Meng. She points to other valuable outcomes, such as the recognition of CUHK students as Microsoft Fellows, the availability of Microsoft Research grants that allow the faculty to develop their own research ideas, and the opportunities for CUHK faculty and students to visit Microsoft Research Asia labs and be part of their research groups, all while exploring the latest technologies and research findings.

    Professor Meng at the Fifth Microsoft Research Asia Joint Laboratory Symposium in 2013, seated next to Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia
    Professor Meng at the Fifth Microsoft Research Asia Joint Laboratory Symposium in 2013, seated next to Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia

    Amidst all this support, Professor Meng asserts that freedom is what she and her CUHK colleagues most appreciated about their collaborative association with Microsoft Research Asia. “They never dictate how the project should be done,” she says, “so we really have the freedom, the space, to engage in blue-sky research. But at the same time, they’re always there to support us. This relationship is what has made our joint lab really successful.”

    Based on their solid achievements, we look forward to an even brighter future for the CUHK-MSRA joint lab

    —Tim Pan, Director of University Relations, Microsoft Research Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    2015 Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship projects announced

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    Microsoft Research Cambridge has long engaged in collaboration with academic researchers through research projects, Joint Research Centers, internships, and event sponsorships.  As part of this, the Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship Programme, has, since 2004, awarded annual grants to fund more than 200 academic research projects in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region. The project proposals are submitted by PhD supervisors, who then collaborate with an assigned Microsoft Research co-supervisor to support a PhD student for up to three years, as he or she carries out the proposed research project.

    We are pleased to announce that 19 PhD projects, split across six EMEA countries, have been selected for 2015 scholarships and will receive funding and collaborative assistance, starting in the academic year 2015–2016. Among these were seven proposals that grew out of our ongoing collaborations with University College London and Edinburgh University (see Initiative Celebrates Industry-Academia Collaboration; Sound the Bagpipes: Joint Initiative in Informatics Announced).

    Below is a list of the selected projects, including the PhD supervisor and the institution:

    • ByPASS: Building Programming Abstractions for Packet Processing on CPUs, Graphics PR
      Evangelos Markatos, FORTH-ICS, Greece

    • Designing for Spatial Sharing - Architectural Thinking as an Approach to Technology Design
      Marianne Graves Petersen, Aarhus University, Denmark

    • Designing the Design of the Internet of Things
      Ashley Hall, Royal College of Art, UK

    • Fast, Flexible and Functional Software
      Anil Madhavapeddy, University of Cambridge, UK

    • Global Fitness Maximising Approaches to Evaluate the Trade-Offs Involved in the Evergreen and Deciduous Conundrum
      Peter van Bodegom, Leiden University, the Netherlands

    • History-Aware Testing
      Andreas Zeller, Saarland University, Germany

    • Model Worlds - Interacting with Machines which Read the Future
      James Auger, Royal College of Art, UK

    • Preference Elicitation and Mechanism Design for Complex Dynamic Systems
      Sven Seuken, University of Zurich, Switzerland

    • Real World Data with Dependent Types: Integrity and Interoperation
      Conor McBride, University of Strathclyde, UK

    • Reasoning about Racy Programs under Relaxed Consistency
      Susmit Sarkar, University of St Andrews, UK

    • Safe, Natural, and Efficient Probabilistic Programming
      Frank Wood, University of Oxford, UK

    • Sequential Structured Prediction
      Peter Gehler, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Germany

    Joint Initiative with University College London:

    • Capture of Real-World Non-Rigid Scenes from a Single RGB Camera
      Lourdes Agapito

    • Constructing Robust Synthetic Gene Feedback Systems using a Combined Experimental and Bayesian Approach
      Chris Barnes

    • Controlled Malleability in Cryptography
      Sarah Meiklejohn

    • Image Quality Transfer
      Daniel Alexander

    Joint Initiative with Informatics with University of Edinburgh:

    • Formal Decompositions of Strongly Coupled Systems
      Vincent Danos

    • Self-Optimising Internet Services
      Hugh Leather

    • System-Level Support for Persistent Memory
      Stratis Viglas

    You can learn more about these projects on the 2015 projects page. PhD supervisors are actively recruiting for these projects; candidate selection should be complete by the end of March 2016.

    We’d like to thank all of this year’s applicants, and we’re looking forward to September 1, 2015, when the submission tool for the 2016 applications will open. Remember, no researcher is an island, especially when it comes to applying computer science for the benefit of society.
     
    —Dr. Daron Green, Director, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Celebrating diversity in computing

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    Smart managers have long recognized the importance of diversity in the workplace. They know from experience what empirical research has shown: diverse teams outperform those made up of individual “all stars,” particularly when it comes to innovation.

    The value of diversity is why Microsoft Research is pleased to join with other groups across the company to support the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (the Tapia Conference), the Association of Computing Machinery’s premier diversity event. The Tapia Conference brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and computing professionals of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

    This year’s theme, “Diversity at Scale,” celebrates efforts that move beyond conversation and study into full implementation of diversity in all aspects of computing. Befitting our commitment to this goal, Microsoft attendees are a culturally and professionally diverse group of women and men representing different ethnicities, nationalities, and computing careers, including researchers, engineers, interns, and business executives.

    Among the Microsoft leaders playing prominent roles in the conference are Microsoft Vice President Jacky Wright, who will deliver a keynote address on the power of data, and Jennifer Chayes, director of our New England and New York research labs, who will be participating in a fireside chat on big data. In addition, a number of Microsoft employees—including Jessica Lingel, Bhavini Soneji, and Fernando Diaz—will join me in supporting the career mentoring workshops, plenary sessions, poster presentations, and career fair.

    Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School
    Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School

    Personally, I’m most excited about the poster session presentations from the diverse undergraduate students who attended the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School (DS3). Designed to encourage participation from New York City area college students who are women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities, DS3 is a hands-on, eight-week introduction to data science. DS3 includes coursework in data science, taught by leading scientists from Microsoft Research’s lab in New York. The students study tools and techniques for acquiring, cleaning, and utilizing real-world data for research purposes, and are introduced to concepts in applied statistics and machine learning. DS3 students also participate group research projects, two of which will be represented at the poster session:

    • An Empirical Analysis of Stop-and-Frisk in New York City looks at the social cost of the city's controversial stop-and-frisk program and develops a simple predictive model to aid officers in making better decisions about whom to stop and under what circumstances.
    • Self-Balancing Bikes explores a simple re-routing scheme to improve the availability of bikes while simultaneously reducing operating costs in the United States’ largest bike-sharing program.

    If you are a college student from the New York area, you are welcome to apply for the 2015 Summer School. We will be accepting applications soon, online

    On the last day of the conference, I’ll join academic and industry leaders for a one-day summit where we will map out strategies for graduating more students who are ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities in the field of computing. We will also discuss methods for increasing their rate of advancement once they have entered the workplace. I’m looking forward to brainstorming some great initiatives for attaining diversity at scale!

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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