• Digital Assistance for Sign-Language Users

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Stakeholders in the sign-language-recognition project

    Sign language is the primary language for many deaf and hard-of-hearing people. But it currently is not possible for these people to interact with computers using their native language.

    Because of this, researchers in recent years have spent lots of time studying the challenges of sign-language recognition, because not everyone understands sign language, and human sign-language translators are not always available. The researchers have examined the potential of input sensors such as data gloves or special cameras. The former, though, while providing good recognition performance, are inconvenient to wear and have proven too expensive for mass use. And web cameras or stereo cameras, while accurate and fast at hand tracking, struggle to cope with issues such as tricky real-world backgrounds or illumination when not under controlled conditions.

    Then along came a device called the Kinect. Researchers from Microsoft Research Asia have collaborated with colleagues from the Institute of Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to explore how Kinect’s body-tracking abilities can be applied to the problem of sign-language recognition. Results have been encouraging in enabling people whose primary language is sign language to interact more naturally with their computers, in much the same way that speech recognition does.

  • Gates: The Golden Age for Computer Science Is Now

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Bill Gates during Faculty Summit 2013

    Imagine that you got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask a question to Bill Gates. What would that be? Would you ask about health care? Software? Education? Philanthropy?

    For several people, that’s exactly what happened July 15 in the opening keynotes of Microsoft Research’s 14th annual Faculty Summit, and all those topics were addressed—and more.

    More than 400 academic researchers from around the world got a rare opportunity to hear Gates, chairman of Microsoft, discuss a wide variety of topics, including all of the above, during a freewheeling session lasting more than an hour, most of which was spent answering questions from the assembled academics. He kept the audience enthralled, fielding the inquiries with thoughtful responses both illuminating and intriguing.

  • Digital Hair Manipulation Gets Dynamic

    Posted by Rob Knies

    A few strokes on an image puts the hair-manipulation process in place

    Had your hair cut lately? Most of us probably can answer that one affirmatively. Use a brush or comb? Well, yeah, of course. Does your hair blow in the wind? Only when it’s windy.

    Such simplistic questions might have you scratching your head. In real life, the appearance of human hair is edited regularly, either by the elements or by ourselves. It’s something so natural, so normal, that we don’t even think about it.

    Lvdi Wang does, though. That’s because Wang, an associate researcher in the Internet Graphics Group at Microsoft Research Asia, has been working for the past year and a half on improving the appearance of hair in digital images, an enormously challenging task in technical terms.

  • Ten Billion People, 208 Pages

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Ten Billion book cover

    In 2012, Stephen Emmott, head of the Computational Science Laboratory based at Microsoft Research Cambridge, took the stage in London for a one-man show called Ten Billion that underscored the challenges the world faces in a century when the global population is expected to surpass that figure.

    It was a riveting experience—for those who got a chance to experience it.

    On July 11, that circle will begin to expand dramatically. Penguin Random House, the newly conjoined combination of publishing powerhouses, will release Ten Billion, a trade paperback that will bring his cautionary message to a much broader audience.

  • Indian Researcher Helps Prove Math Conjecture from the 1950s

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Nikhil Srivastava

    On June 18, Adam Marcus and Daniel A. Spielman of Yale University, along with Nikhil Srivastava of Microsoft Research India, announced a proof of the Kadison-Singer conjecture, a question about the mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics. Ten days later, they posted, on Cornell University’s arXiv open-access e-prints site, a manuscript titled Interlacing Families II: Mixed Characteristic Polynomials and The Kadison-Singer Problem.

    Thousands of academic papers are published every year, and this one’s title wouldn’t necessarily earn it much attention beyond a niche audience … except for the fact that the text divulged a proof of a mathematical conjecture more than half a century old—and the ramifications could be broad and significant.

    The Kadison-Singer conjecture was first offered in 1959 by mathematicians Richard Kadison and Isadore Singer. In a summary of the achievement, the website Soul Physics says, “… this conjecture is equivalent to a remarkable number of open problems in other fields … [and] has important consequences for the foundations of physics!”