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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

    RFP on Using Technology to Combat Human Trafficking

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    Human trafficking of minors—including the illegal trade of children and teens for commercial sexual exploitation—is a crime so vile that it makes most people shudder. But unfortunately, not everyone recoils: pedophiles and procurers have made the commercial sexual exploitation of children an international business, and there is little doubt that technology is increasingly playing a role in their criminal practices. Which is why today I am pleased to announce that Microsoft Research Connections is partnering with danah boyd, one of the top social media researchers from the Microsoft New England Research and Development Lab, and the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to investigate the implications of technology in this heinous crime.

    According to Shared Hope International, at least 100,000 juveniles are the victims of child sex exploitation in the United States each year. (photo courtesy of iStockphoto)
    According to Shared Hope International, at least 100,000 juveniles are the victims of child sex exploitation in the United States each year. (photo courtesy of iStockphoto)

    Technology is a tool, and like any tool, it can be put to good or evil purposes. Currently, there is a paucity of information regarding technology’s role in human trafficking. We don’t know if there are more human trafficking victims as a result of technology, nor do we know if law enforcement can identify perpetrators more readily from the digital traces that they leave. One thing that we do know is that technology makes many aspects of human trafficking more visible and more traceable, for better and for worse. Yet focusing on whether technology is good or bad misses the point; it is here to stay, and it is imperative that we understand its part in human trafficking. More importantly, we need to develop innovative ways of using technology to address the horrors of this crime.

    Over the last several months, I have spent significant time talking with organizations, victims, and researchers who are working on this problem. It has become a passion for me, in part because at age 14 I ran away from home. I was put in a group home, then into foster care, and finally emancipated. Back then, I was fortunate that no one targeted me or trapped me into the human trade; living on the street and working in the human trade never crossed my mind. And luckily, I found teachers who helped me understand my potential and the opportunities available to me. Now, in partnership with the anti-trafficking community, I want to do all I can to develop innovative ways of using technology to combat human trafficking and help minors in the United States understand there are other options.

    To do so, we must untangle technology’s role in different aspects of the human trafficking ecosystem. This is our hope with this RFP, and we look forward to hearing your responses.

    Rane Johnson, Director of Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Join us in exploring the future of computing—virtually!

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    Computing has changed the world—from online shopping, to social media, to big data analyses of, well, just about everything. The rate of computing-driven change continues unabated, and we find ourselves wondering: what are the hot trends and burning issues in computer science research today? On July 15 and 16, 400 elite academic investigators will explore these questions with Microsoft researchers during the annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Redmond, Washington.

    Watch the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit live and online, July 15, 2013, 09:00–17:30 PT

    But you don’t have to be in Redmond to benefit from this outstanding event. Selected keynotes and engaging, informative interviews with top researchers will be broadcast live from the Microsoft Conference Center and Microsoft Studios. You can view the live, streaming broadcasts on July 15 from 09:00 to 17:30 Pacific Time (12:00 to 20:30 Eastern Time) on the Virtual Event page.

    Every year, the Faculty Summit invites a renowned speaker to deliver the opening keynote. This year, for the first time since 2005, we’re delighted to present Microsoft Corporation Chairman Bill Gates as the keynote speaker. He will address the role of computing in solving global problems and then take questions from the in-person audience and our online viewers. We will rebroadcast his keynote later in the day, but be sure to view it live at 09:00 (Pacific Time) if you have a must-ask question for this leader in computing and philanthropy.


    Introducing the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2013

    After the keynote, watch the insightful discussions about trends in software engineering and quantum computing, as well as developments in combatting Internet fraud, refining prediction engines, and using social media during crises. You can also learn how software is reducing the cost of genome research and putting cancer cures within reach. All our live interviews will allow you to submit your questions and comments through an interactive tool in the viewer.

    So mark your calendar, dust off your monitor, or wipe clean your touchscreen—the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2013 is one webcast you won’t want to miss.

    Stewart Tansley, Co-Chair, Microsoft Faculty Summit 2013, and Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Encouraging the next generation of women in computing

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    Although computer science is poised for exponential job growth over the next several years, there’s a glaring lack of women entering the field. Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, to the point where today only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female. 

    As I speak with young women around the world, I continue to find that their disinterest stems from a lack of familiarity with the exciting and impactful career possibilities in computing. The obvious remedy is to expose more young women to the professional opportunities in computer science. This has been my personal mission, and I am pleased to be surrounded by amazing young women who evangelize computer science as a field in which women can make their mark.

    she++ logoOne such “evangelist” is Microsoft intern Ayna Agarwal, a student at Stanford University. In January 2012, Ayna co-founded she++, a community that seeks to inspire women’s involvement in computer science. she++ sponsored Stanford's first conference on women in technology in April 2012, an event that attracted more than 250 attendees and hosted a lineup of inspirational women engineers, including employees of such Bay Area tech firms as Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Pinterest. After positive feedback from attendees, mentors, and the press, the she++ conference has become an annual event at Stanford, one of many initiatives that she++ sponsors in its effort to create momentum for female technologists.

    I was extremely excited to join with Ayna to co-host Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation—she++ and Microsoft Research, on August 28. This event featured two panels: the first comprised of female interns who are on the forefront of the next generation of computer scientists, and the second consisting of top technical women from Microsoft who are driving innovation and change across the company.

    Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Priya Ganesan, and Amy Lin (pictured left to right)
    Katie Doran (far left) hosts the panel of interns: Ayna Agarwal, Amy Lin and Priya Ganesan (pictured left to right)

    You can now view the event on-demand. And while you’re in video-watching mode, you might want to take a look at the she++ documentary video and the Microsoft Research Bridging the Gender Gap video, both of which highlight  efforts to increase the presence of women in computing. In addition, I encourage all you girls (and boys) to try out these free tools that can teach you how to program and help you explore computer science: Kodu, Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer, Pex for Fun, and TouchDevelop.

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

     

    I was extraordinarily excited to join forces with Microsoft Research to bring together generations of female programmers to share their stories, and I hope that the on-demand video of “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation” will expose even more young women to the tremendous possibilities in computer science.

    Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.
    Pictured from left to right, Ayna Argarwal, Rane Johnson, and Katie Doran led the event, “Reinventing Tech for the Next Generation.” Rane joined the event virtually with the BEAM robot.

    Three years ago, I entered Stanford as a dreamer, planning to change the face of global health through veterinarian medicine. However, I soon tired of the preparatory science classes and of feeling tethered to the vet hospital. I still wanted to have big impact on the world, but I wasn’t sure how.

    Then I took my first computer science class and fell in love with the problem-solving mindset. Moreover, I soon realized that technology had the ability to touch the lives of millions, offering new communication and productivity tools and entertaining toys, serving as a means to unravel the biggest crimes, providing protection via mobile phones in developing countries—the possibilities are endless.

    I became convinced that the full potential of tech is yet to be discovered. Yet a couple months prior to that first class, I had no idea that computer science was even a discipline, or that large companies and startups were built entirely around bringing technology to life. I had never even conceived of the possibilities.

    I realized that my ignorance about computer science derived in large measure from the lack of role models sharing their stories. So I created she++ to be a community of voices of those technologists: the ones who are breaking the boundaries and incorporating their interests into the field.

    she++ soon evolved into a personal mission to embolden and enrich the possibility of technology. I aim to provide an inspiration for all types of people, with every interest, encouraging them to take a peek and enroll in their first programming class. The future of the world lies in tech, and we need more people, with unique perspectives, than we’re training today to work in the industry. I hope that the joint Microsoft Research and she++ event entices girls everywhere to take their first programming class—and to realize they can have big impact in this world with technology.

    —Ayna Agarwal, student at Stanford University and summer intern at Microsoft

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    Fun with programming

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