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Posted by Rob Knies
Among the most engrossed attendees of the first day of TechFest 2013 had to be this year’s class of Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellows, who received an invitation to the event by virtue of their selection to the program.The fellows are recipients of a two-year fellowship for outstanding Ph.D. students, nominated by their universities, in their third and fourth years of Ph.D. graduate studies.Among those invited to attend was Rashmi Vinayak of the University of California, Berkeley, whose experience, while hers alone, certainly must be shared by her fellow recipients.
Many businesses and individuals talk a mean game about how they’re changing the world, catering to customer demands, delivering bold new user experiences.And why not? It’s easy. Such claims rarely are held accountable. They’re easy to twist into whatever direction is most convenient.Talk is cheap—sometimes. But not always.I just had a most fascinating discussion with Dimitrios Lymberopoulos, a researcher in the Sensing and Energy Research Group at Microsoft Research Redmond. He’s at TechFest 2013 this week, discussing a project called Enabling Real-Time Business-Metadata Extraction, his focus for the last six months. I asked him a few questions about the project, and he responded in terms at once sincere, ingenious, and passionate.
You might have heard of Drew Purves before. As head of the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group at Microsoft Research Cambridge, he has gained attention for a number of his projects, from modeling forest dynamics to FetchClimate, that use big data and build models to make predictions about future environmental conditions.He’s back at TechFest this year with a different kind of project. Called Predictive Decision-Making at the Speed of Thought, this effort provides the fundamental research needed to build predictive models for many different types of data, not just the environmental. The goal is to generalize the approach he has been pursuing to make such tools available to a broad range of organizations and businesses.“In the environmental sciences where we work, but also much more broadly, there’s a lot of demand for the pipeline that goes from big data through models to predictions of important things,” Purves explains. “We know, fundamentally, how to do that, but the technical barriers at the moment are so high that it’s the domain of specialist experts, which, in turn, means that it’s only the world’s largest organizations that can afford to support that kind of data-to-prediction pipeline.”
For those who have upgraded to Windows 8, here’s a beguiling project featured during TechFest 2013. Called Making Smooth Topical Connections on Touch Devices, it offers an alternate, graphical way to mine, browse, and search through a database.The documents within the database are represented as a grid of keywords, with the font sizes varying by the frequency in which the words appear. This creates a galaxy-like collection of word groups interrelated with others nearby. The result is that the more popular terms in the database are easily identifiable because of font size, and related terms are identifiable by proximity. At a glance, you can see what’s important and what is connected.For a glimpse at the project in action, just take a look at the TechFest 2013 home page.“This makes it much easier to find things of interest,” says Nebojsa Jojic, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Redmond, “as opposed to search terms. You can see smooth transitions between words, and you can immediately see terms that are related to your search.”
Perhaps you’re engrossed in the ongoing enthusiasm and enlightenment that is TechFest 2013, but, for whatever reason, you aren’t able to participate in person. Never fear—we are delighted to offer you the next best thing to being here.Presenting the TechFest 2013 Video Portal.