• Jaron Lanier Wins German Book Trade’s Peace Prize

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Jaron Lanier

    Jaron Lanier is a man of many talents: computer scientist, composer, visual artist, author. He has been called the “father of virtual reality” for his groundbreaking efforts in the 1980s. In recent years, he has lent a strong, unique voice to the worldwide conversation about the merits and limitations of the digital age.

    It’s quite a résumé. Now, though, he can add a new entry to the list. On June 5, Lanier, an interdisciplinary scientist with Microsoft Research, was named the 2014 recipient of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

    The award, bestowed by the German publishers and booksellers association, is an international prize awarded annually and considered one of Europe’s most prestigious honors. It will be presented on Oct. 12 during the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest trade fair for books, held in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

  • Seeking Answers amid World Cup Excitement

    Posted by Rob Knies

    David Rothschild

    When the world starts watching, it’s time for David Rothschild to shift into overdrive.

    Readers of this blog need little introduction to the work on prediction models from Rothschild, a Microsoft researcher and economist. Past posts have examined his efforts to produce accurate forecasts for events such as the 2012 U.S. presidential election, the 2013 and 2014 Academy Awards, the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and, recently, India’s general election.

    So, what’s the next big thing to which he can apply his prognosticative powers?

    The World Cup, of course.

  • Catapult: Moving Beyond CPUs in the Cloud

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Field-programmable gate array

    Operating a datacenter at web scale requires managing many conflicting requirements. The ability to deliver computation at a high level and speed is a given, but because of the demands such a facility must meet, a datacenter also needs flexibility. Additionally, it must be efficient in its use of power, keeping costs as low as possible.

    Addressing often conflicting goals is a challenge, leading datacenter providers to seek constant performance and efficiency improvements and to evaluate the merits of general-purpose versus task-tuned alternatives—particularly in an era in which Moore’s Law is nearing an end, as some suggest.

    Microsoft researchers and colleagues from Bing have been collaborating with others from industry and academia to examine datacenter hardware alternatives, and their work, a project known as Catapult, was presented in Minneapolis on June 16 during the 41st International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA).

  • Theorem Prover Sheds New Light on Stem-Cell Behavior

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Computational model of pluripotency

    Advances in computer science in recent years have had dramatic effects on how more traditional sciences are conducted in the 21st century. That has become common knowledge by now, but if you require further proof, just turn to the June 6 issue of Science.

    That magazine includes a paper, co-written by Microsoft researchers in concert with a couple of academic collaborators, that details how a new, computational model can explain how genes interact to keep mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells in an unspecialized state.

    The scientific term for such a state is “pluripotency,” the potential of a stem cell to differentiate into specialized directions, such as those that can develop into brain cells or heart cells or lung cells. The achievement outlined in the Science piece would not have been possible by biologists alone, nor by computer scientists alone. By working together, though, they have been able access a significant key to the magic of life.

  • Chasing the Impossible Dream: GPS-Based Locations Indoors

    GPS antenna beam

    Conventional wisdom holds that the use of GPS satellites to enable indoor mapping is a non-starter. GPS receivers, it is said, simply don’t work indoors, for a variety of reasons. While Earth’s outdoors environment has been mapped extensively, indoor localization of places such as shopping malls or department stores remains an elusive dream.

    Conventional wisdom, says Jie Liu, is wrong.

    COIN-GPS: Indoor Localization from Direct GPS Receiving—a paper from Liu and his fellow Microsoft researchers Gerald DeJean, Bodhi Priyantha, Yuzhe Jin, and Ted Hart, along with Shahriar Nirjon of the University of Virginia—challenges current assumptions about the viability of GPS for indoor localization. That paper just won a best-paper award during MobiSys 2014, the 12th International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services, held June 16-19 in Bretton Woods, N.H.