Posted by Rob Knies

Microsoft Research New England has a unique role within the constellation of Microsoft Research facilities around the world. While most of those support computer-science research across a broad range of fields—collectively, more than 55 distinct areas of computing—the New England facility has from its outset placed its focus on interdisciplinary work.

That means a mash-up of mathematical and algorithmic sciences with social and biomedical sciences, including applied projects in areas such as economics, social media, and health care, in addition to theoretical projects in mathematics and cryptography. Such a broad palette is extended and enhanced by Microsoft Research New England’s location in Cambridge, Mass., one of the world’s most vibrant academic hotbeds, putting collaboration with other world-renowned experts within arm’s reach.

“Our primary goal is to advance the state of the art in interdisciplinary research,” says Jennifer Chayes, Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of the facility, “and our research also enhances Microsoft products and services, both through direct transfer of technology and through impact on Microsoft strategy.”

That philosophy was at center stage Sept. 27, when Microsoft Research New England marked the 20th anniversary of Microsoft Research with a dozen presentations, half by researchers at the facility, and half by academic collaborators. The titles alone were indicative of the wide range of topics discussed: “Algorithmic Pricing of Online Services,” “Data-Driven Decision Making in Healthcare Systems,” “Machine Learning and Crowdsourcing.”

The event concluded with a panel discussion entitled “Privacy: Issues and Perspectives,” moderated by Ethan Zuckerman, researcher for the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and featuring a high-profile collection of experts including Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University; Chris Conley of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California; and Kate Crawford, associate professor in the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

“The wide adoption of social media, the spread of digital photography, and the online targeting of advertisements are all developments that have brought issues of privacy to the forefront,” Chayes observed. “Our panel considered some of the pressing issues around privacy in a digital age and offered perspectives on key problems and possible solutions.”

With that said, now it's time to return to the mother ship.