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Standing on the banks of the Seine, I found myself marveling at the beauty of “April in Paris” (cue the 1930s song). Perhaps it was the scent of the flowers in bloom in the Jardin du Luxembourg or the warmth of the Continental spring. But, most likely, my contentment stemmed from the success of the just-completed Microsoft Research Machine Learning Summit, which took place April 22 to 24 in the “City of Light” on Le Campus de Microsoft France.
The event brought together more than 230 attendees and presenters, including thought leaders from computer science, engineering, statistics, and mathematics. Through keynotes, demos, and panel discussions, we highlighted some of the key challenges in this new era of machine learning and explored the next generation of approaches, techniques, and tools that researchers and scientists need to exploit the information revolution for the benefit of society.
As exciting as the in-person event was, I was equally enthused by the reception of our streaming broadcast of key presentations and interviews, which was viewed by some 3,000 people around the globe. The live, online presentation not only made it possible for many more people to view the summit, it gave a broader group of students and researchers an opportunity to engage directly with some of the top experts in the field of machine learning, including Andrew Blake, director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Judea Pearl, professor emeritus at UCLA. I was pleased that many from the online audience posed questions about computer vision to Professor Blake, and difficult questions about probability and causality to Professor Pearl.
There was hardly an area of machine learning that wasn’t explored in depth at the summit—from the aforementioned topics of computer vision and causality, to insightful presentations on Bayesian statistics and the use of machine learning techniques in the realm of social media and large-scale learning.
Of course the food was outstanding (it was Paris, after all), and meals were made all the more enjoyable by the stimulating conversation of our companions and the spectacular views of Paris from the thirty-fourth floor of our hotel. But for me, the most exciting moments were the intense discussions I observed taking place during breaks and the social events, and the sense that seeds of exciting new ideas were being planted that would germinate in the months and years ahead.
—Chris Bishop, Distinguished Scientist, Microsoft Research Cambridge
Collaboration can be a great catalyst for new ideas. Whether working with colleagues from down the hall or a team from another continent, we have found that working together strengthens our ideas. A prime example is the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre – Microsoft Research Centre in Barcelona, Spain. Microsoft Research Cambridge began collaborating with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) in 2006. We formalized the relationship with the establishment of the BSC – Microsoft Research Centre in January 2008. The Centre focuses on the design and interaction of future microprocessors and software for the mobile and desktop market segments.
The BSC – Microsoft Research Centre is home to a talented group of students who are working towards their PhDs and who bring their creativity and enthusiasm to tackle tomorrow’s problems. “I am very happy that the Centre is a model of open research,” said Centre director Mateo Valero. “We share our findings with the community and all of our software and applications are available for download at our website.”
The program has an extremely young team with more than 15 PhD candidates, Valero explained. Leading the student group was Ferad Zyulkyarov, who is at the forefront of Transactional Memory (TM) research. Working under the supervision of Valero, and his colleagues Osman Unsal and Adrián Cristal, Zyulkyarov investigated how this new approach to multi-core programming could make software development much easier for future computer architectures.
Ferad Zyulkyarov defends his thesis in Barcelona
A Different Point of View
Previous TM research had focused on evaluating and improving TM implementations. Zyulkyarov took a unique approach to the problem, looking at it from the programmer’s point of view. As part of his thesis, Zyulkyarov developed one of the first real-world TM applications: a rewrite of the Quake Game Server that replaced traditional memory locks with TM atomic blocks. This makes life much easier for the programmer, potentially transforming multi-core software development for the future.
Zyulkyarov encountered some obstacles during his project. For example, he had to develop a better debugger and profiling support, neither of which existed before he created them. When he reviewed the performance of the core server code, Zyulkyarov could see the potential for TM. There is still some optimization work to be done, but the potential is there.
During the project, Zyulkyarov collaborated closely with Tim Harris, senior researcher, Systems and Networking Group, Microsoft Research Cambridge. Harris is proud of the work Zyulkyarov accomplished during their time together. “It’s great to see Ferad’s work come to fruition,” Harris said. “He’s made substantial contributions to the development of programming tools for using TM, and I hope that we’ll now be able to apply these ideas to other parts of the multi-core challenge.”
The First of Many PhDs from Barcelona
The first of the 15 students to receive his PhD, and now at Intel, Zyulkyarov is just one example of the young talent being fostered through the BSC – Microsoft Research Centre, driving the industry to tackle some of its most challenging problems. “In the five years since we have started, the Centre has matured quite a lot, and this is the first fruit of the collaboration with BSC and Microsoft Research,” Valero said, adding he is especially grateful to Harris for serving as Ferad’s mentor. “I know that more [success stories] will follow soon,” he added.
I am very glad—thinking back to my first visit to BSC five years ago—in seeing how far we came. This is the result of all the energy and enthusiasm we have all put together in the enterprise. This is only the first of a successful series of PhD awards, which we will see taking place in the next few years.
—Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)
Punctuating the gray skies and rain that typify spring in the Pacific Northwest, the first week of April brought a sunny gathering of data scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to Microsoft’s Redmond campus, where the second annual Open Data for Open Science workshop, or ODOS2012, took place. With overwhelming support from Microsoft product groups, Microsoft Research labs, and the Microsoft Research Connections team, the workshop featured a compelling agenda that attracted a full house of eager and excited attendees. The results greatly exceeded our expectations!
Some of the ODOS2012 attendees—eager and excited about the event
ODOS2012 brought together two distinguished groups: (1) Microsoft researchers and engineers who are working on cutting-edge computing technologies, and (2) leading academic and government scientists who are conducting environmental research using big data. The latter group comprised about 40 attendees, including international participants from Australia, Brazil, China, and Canada.
The agenda covered 26 topics on various Microsoft products, Microsoft Research technologies, and Microsoft Research collaborations with academia and governments worldwide. The technologies presented are components of Microsoft Environmental Informatics Frameworks (EIF), which is a strategy designed to use state-of-the-art computing technologies from Microsoft in solving the computational challenges of today’s big-data sciences.
Some of the demos were developed by applying Microsoft technology on data and scenarios provided by the research collaborators, and some were spontaneous showcases presented by the external attendees. The workshop not only demonstrated visually powerful technologies, including WorldWide Telescope, ChronoZoom, and PivotViewer, but also helped push computational practices to the next level by engaging the user community with core computing technologies such as OData and Windows Azure.
The presentation, New Tools for Environmental Science by Lucas Joppa, a collective contribution from Microsoft Research Cambridge (UK) to the ODOS2012 agenda, is worth noting in particular for couple of reasons: 1) the presentation generated an enlightening awareness of the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science initiative among the audience. 2) Lucas delivered his entire presentation in Cambridge via Skype and had seamlessly effective Q&A interaction with the audience. With such a successful online interactive presentation experience, we plan to enrich our future ODOS event agenda by including more remote presentations.
The attendees’ enthusiasm was obvious, with many of them telling me, “This is eye opening!” and others writing glowing evaluations of the event. John Willson, an environmental informatics researcher from Canada, called it “…the best information payload on CS & the environment I have received in a decade…well organized, well presented, heavy content, simulating attendees…just a great workshop with lots of relevant ideas.”
We are already looking forward to next year’s Open Data for Open Science workshop, and we encourage all environmental researchers to use EIF and share your experiences with us. Next year, you could be presenting at ODOS as we continue to explore the use of technology in tackling the big-data problems of environmental science.
—Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections