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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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    Chinese University Students Push the Boundaries of Kinect for Windows

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    When Microsoft Research unveiled the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta in mid-June, we expected it would be popular with academic and enthusiast developer communities. But even with our high expectations for the SDK, we didn’t anticipate the level of creativity that was demonstrated by the Chinese university students who participated in the Kinect Pioneer Program. Given the opportunity to develop Windows applications that take advantage of the Kinect sensor, these students have created some truly remarkable projects.

    Students collaborating and sharing demos at the China Kinect Student Summer CampStudents collaborating and sharing demos at the China Kinect Student Summer Camp

    Kinect Pioneer Program Encourages Students to Innovate

    The Kinect Pioneer Program was introduced by Microsoft Research Asia in May 2011, in anticipation of the release of the non-commercial Kinect for Windows SDK beta. The program, which involved eight Chinese universities, established 25 student teams that intensely competed to create the most elegant and practical applications. By using Kinect sensor technology, the students generated applications that use depth sensing, voice and object recognition, and human motion tracking, and that are applicable to diverse topics: from education to commerce to culture and history. Six pioneer teams were selected to attend the 2011 China Kinect Student Summer Camp and shared their applications with more than 180 students from the top 30 universities in China.

    Team Applications Highlight Kinect Capabilities and Student Talent

    The following three applications exemplify the potential of Kinect for Windows as well as the students’ creativity and technical skills.

    • Kinect for the Classroom
      Team Frinect, from Wuhan University and Huazhong University of Science & Technology, designed a new set of presentation tools for teachers: by using the Kinect technology, they created a comprehensive digital workspace that combines a virtual blackboard with Microsoft PowerPoint and powerful multimedia and search functionalities. Thanks to Kinect technology, teachers no longer need chalk; by using gestures alone, instructors can type text, draw graphs and tables, underscore key points from long passages with audio cues, record lessons, and upload them to a server. Most importantly, the application promotes a livelier classroom atmosphere and enhances student engagement.
    • Journey Through Time
      The students on team Sunnyblue at Xi’an Jiaotong University wanted to display the history and culture of China in an entertaining, interactive way. And what better way to do this than by building a time machine that uses Kinect technology? The resulting application enables users to build an historically accurate 3-D representation of an ancient Chinese city. They choose architecture and decoration styles that are typical of specific dynasties as they create their own living museum. Next, the users’ avatars assume an historically appropriate appearance as they wander around the city and select period clothing, hairstyles, and makeup via Kinect's object recognition capabilities. After the creation of the setting and characters, the story takes shape. Users invite their online friends to their virtual city, sharing experiences as history comes alive.
    • A Night at the Opera
      No, team K-FLY from Xidian University, didn’t remake the classic Marx Brothers movie—they went one better and built a virtual platform for recreating the pageantry of the Peking Opera. By using Kinect’s depth-sensing and skeletal-tracking technologies, users’ avatars can apply the traditional Peking Opera makeup and then perform some of the best-loved songs from this treasured art form. This is good news for opera fans, who can upload their performances and share them with friends. The application provides a stage on which opera enthusiasts can display their talents, while its novel and vivid approach is certain to attract new devotees to this traditional art.

    Finalists from the  Kinect Pioneer ProgramFinalists from the Kinect Pioneer Program

    Microsoft Research Asia has been delighted with the success of the program. “Through the Kinect Pioneer Program, Chinese students have been given a chance to come into contact with the most cutting-edge technology from Microsoft. It also enables the creativity of Chinese university students to come to life,” says Lolan Song, senior director at Microsoft Research Asia. By developing applications that go beyond traditional games, Chinese students have shown where Kinect can grow and have established the groundwork for the use of Kinect technology in new areas of teaching, culture, and history.

    We’re excited to see how people are inspired to create and innovate by using Kinect technologies in ways we never imagined. Learn more about what we call the Kinect Effect.

    Guobin Wu, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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