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Posted by Andrew Blake, managing director of Microsoft Research Cambridge
As ever, at the core of Microsoft Research Cambridge’s work is participation in academic research across the world. Our publication activity is too prolific to detail, but we regularly hit the top conferences and journals. Notably, our staff co-authored eight papers this year on human-computer interaction at CHI, and seven at POPL, the premier conference for programming languages.
There was a scientific landmark in September. Georges Gonthier announced the culmination of a six-year project with our joint research centre at INRIA, Paris that produced a formal proof of the Feit-Thompson Theorem, the first major step of the classification of finite simple groups. It used the proof system Coq and strengthened it appreciably in the process. Coq is also important for verification of security-critical code.We had plenty of media attention this year, particularly on blending virtual and physical spaces. KinÊtre, Touchless Interaction in Medical Imaging, and Digits all created a significant buzz. Two of those came from the i3D group, a new, cross-disciplinary collaboration on natural user interaction, a subject that could help shape how we relate to computers and computer-controlled technology. Not to be outdone, our IT team hit the press too, explaining its innovative approach to running effective data centres.
Posted by Hussein Salama, director of Advanced Technology Labs Cairo
In 2012, we reaped the fruits of our long-term investments and bets that we made close to four years ago. In the midst of the Egyptian-revolution aftershocks, our lab managed to keep its focus and to end the year with many wonderful achievements.Our information-retrieval team continued its multiyear effort to drive up the relevance of Bing search for the Arab countries. In recognition of that team’s accomplishments and the skills the team members demonstrated, the Bing product group decided in March to start a Bing team in Cairo. The Bing Cairo team is collocated with Advanced Technology Labs Cairo and focuses on Bing search for the Arab countries and Turkey. I am delighted to have a research team and a development team at the same location, as this simplifies the collaboration and speeds the transfer of technologies from research to product.
Posted by Michael Freedman, managing director of Station Q
Station Q focuses on the physics of those condensed-matter quantum systems that offer the promise of intrinsic or “topological” protection from error and decoherence. Such systems are likely to play an important role in the architecture of quantum computers. We also enjoy trying to understand what quantum computers will be able to do once they are built.The answer is certainly not in asymptotic formulations; the constants matter. During a recent meeting on quantum chemistry, I learned that for problems that will be at the forefront in the next couple of decades, the limiting factor for quantum algorithms is not the number of qubits but the number of gate operations. One easily produces numbers like 10^20 if one does the “obvious”: imitate the unitary evolution you wish to study with fine “Trotter time steps” and build each step—which, because of the fineness, will agree with the identity matrix to a dozen decimal places—by a composition of millions of gates. Here is a hint that we might think of something cleverer.
Posted by Lili Cheng
As you may know, Socl began as an experiment in social search for students and learning. Over the past several months, we’ve watched Socl evolve into a place where people connect over shared interests expressed through beautiful post collages.We appreciate your continued feedback, which is helping us to gain more insight every day and improve how we can all communicate, learn, and share our everyday lives. We’ve been busy redesigning Socl to match how you’re using it, and starting today, we’d like you to give the new Socl a spin and let us know what you think.
Posted by Roy Levin, managing director of Microsoft Research Silicon Valley
Transferring research results into products and services is always a challenging part of Microsoft Research’s job. No two transfers ever happen quite the same way. This year, Microsoft Research Silicon Valley had a tech-transfer experience that is, I believe, unique in the history of Microsoft Research—at least, I can’t remember one of a similar sort in the 11 years I’ve been here.
The technology in this case is a novel form of erasure codes, called “locally reconstructable codes,” that can make a dramatic improvement in the resources required to provide necessary redundancy in a storage-based service. These codes have substantially better space efficiency than classic Reed-Solomon codes, as well as better performance both in normal operation and during error recovery. It is surprising and gratifying that even in a field that has been explored so extensively, it is still possible to make important discoveries.