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The weather is warm and balmy along Mexico’s renowned Riviera Maya, the venue for the 2012 Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit. I’m sure my friends would tell me to get outside, walk along the beach, and think peaceful thoughts. Great suggestions, but I find myself drawn indoors by the summit’s lively intellectual discourse and its thought-provoking research presentations—just like at the previous seven Latin American Faculty Summits.
The theme of this year’s summit is “Technology in Action,” which captures the role of computing in helping to solve real-world problems and advance social and scientific discovery. And indeed, the meeting rooms of the Grand Velas Riviera Hotel are abuzz with researchers from across Latin America and the Caribbean, actively discussing the role of computing in fields as varied as education, geology, healthcare, and the environment. Explicit in many of these discussions is how Microsoft Research can help define the twenty-first century, as scientific inquiry blends virtual and physical reality and strives to gain insights from “big data.”
As excited as I am by the summit’s lineup of speakers and presentations, my greatest enjoyment has come from witnessing Tony Hey’s introduction of Juan Carlos Niebles as this year’s Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow from Latin America and one of seven from around the world. This is the eighth year of the fellowship program, which is intended to identify future thought leaders and provide the funding and public recognition that will help accelerate their research. It has been my pleasure to be involved with the program from its beginning, getting to know the recipients and following their careers. And now, with the selection of Juan Carlos, I feel that the program has truly come of age. You see, Juan Carlos is a “second generation” Faculty Fellow, which is to say he studied under a previous Faculty Fellow from 2006, Fei-Fei Li. How exciting to have come so far in such a short time!
I’m invigorated by the prospect of watching Juan Carlos make further advances in the field of computer vision as his career progresses. He already has created novel algorithms for the automatic recognition and detailed understanding of human motions, activities, and behaviors from images and videos. This technology has the potential to enable innovative activity-aware systems—such as personal robots and smart homes, smart video surveillance, medical diagnosis and monitoring, automated sports analysis, and semantic video search—which will enhance our quality of life.
The selection of Faculty Fellows is just one example of Microsoft Research’s ongoing commitment to collaborating with the academic community and the advancement of computer-science-based research in Latin America. Equally illustrative are the two virtual institutes we have co-founded in region: the Microsoft Research–FAPESP Institute for ICT Research and the Latin American and Caribbean Collaborative ICT Research Federation (LACCIR). These two institutions are advancing the development and application of computer science in Latin America, and their research output is prominently represented at this year’s summit.
Speaking of prominent features, I must mention the new timeline of Mayan culture, which is part of the ChronoZoom content update being launched at the summit. This timeline, created in conjunction with Felipe Gaytan and Camina Murillo from La Salle University in Mexico, covers the rise and fall of Mayan civilization and the ongoing history of ethnic Mayan identity. Equally important, it shows the tremendous potential of ChronoZoom to cover and integrate the history of everything. By launching the ChronoZoom content update at the summit, we hope to encourage top science and humanities scholars in Latin American to create content in ChronoZoom.
Also announced at the summit was Microsoft’s partnership with Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana to translate The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery into Spanish. The Microsoft Research publication is a collection of thought-provoking essays on the development and promise of data-intensive research.
I could go on and on about the summit—but for now, I think I’ll take that walk on the beach, while I reflect on the excitement of the day.
—Harold Javid, Director, The Americas, Microsoft Research Connections
If you visit the University of Washington (UW), you’ll likely see students glued to their smartphones. That’s not surprising—smartphones seem to be everywhere now, and for students, these “computers in your pocket” have become constant digital companions. But on May 4–5, some UW students were more attached than ever to their phones, as they spent 24 hours participating in the first “TouchDevelop@UW Hackathon,” trying their hand at programming directly on their smartphone.
The UW students were using TouchDevelop, a novel application development environment from Microsoft Research that enables users to code right on their smartphones, with no need for a separate PC. TouchDevelop thus brings the excitement of the first programmable personal computers to the now ubiquitous mobile devices.
With TouchDevelop, users can create Windows Phone applications that use the data and media that are stored on their phone, as well as the phone’s camera, GPS, and other sensors. And since smartphones are always connected to a network, TouchDevelop utilizes cloud services for storage and computing. What’s more, TouchDevelop applications can take advantage of social networks, allowing for the creation of programs that connect with the user’s online friends.
TouchDevelop Hackathon video
The enterprising students came up with some truly creative apps. For example, one student produced Inspekt, a facial-recognition application that helps visually impaired people identify others. By using Inspekt on his or her Windows Phone, a visually impaired person trains the device to recognize friends and co-workers. The user then takes the phone to meetings or social events and points it toward people and the phone recognizes known individuals and audibly communicates their names.
Color Recognition was another “visual assistance” app that came out of the UW hackathon. This program is intended to help people who are color blind recognize the color of objects. The user merely points the phone and taps the screen, and the phone replies with the color of the objects in its view.
Other UW students created games for the phone, including TapTrisQ, a puzzle game, and DongleBlaff, a board game. All in all, the event was an exciting opportunity for Microsoft Research to tap into the ingenuity of today’s computer science students—and for the students to discover the power of touch-screen coding on the smartphone.
Want to try your hand at scripting on the Windows Phone? Visit the TouchDevelop website for information and tutorials.
—Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
Looking for a fun, educational, and inexpensive way to observe Space Day? The Museum of Flight in Seattle is throwing an early-bird celebration the evening before, and the Microsoft WorldWide Telescope team will be celebrating with them. On Thursday, May 3, the museum is offering free admission from 5:00 to 9:00 P.M. The Space Day celebration will feature talks, booths, and exhibits, all centered on the theme of space and astronomy.
Volunteers from the Microsoft Research Connections team will be there, sharing the joys of exploring astronomy and space with the amazing WorldWide Telescope. They’ll show museum visitors how to navigate the universe with Microsoft Kinect for Windows, which allows you to use your body as the controller. Imagine flying through the universe by using just hand gestures and your voice. Local astronomy clubs will also have booths, demonstrating telescopes and encouraging future astronomers to pursue careers in space exploration.
We hope you can come and join the festivities. But even if you can't attend, you can visit the WorldWide Telescope website, where you can explore the universe on your own. Happy Space Day!
—Jonathan Fay, Principal Software Architect, Microsoft WorldWide Telescope