• Moving Food-Resilience Data to the Cloud

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Photographic analysis of agricultural field

    People need food, regularly and often. That’s such an obvious truth that’s it’s easy to lose sight of it—easy, that is, until calamity strikes and the food supply is endangered, as it could be in the wake of ongoing changes to Earth’s climate. That prospect is far from inviting.

    This is why Microsoft supports the White House’s inclusion of Food Resilience as one of the themes of its Climate Data Initiative (CDI), an effort to open, organize, and centralize climate-relevant data on Data.gov’s Climate website. And that’s why teams from across Microsoft—including the company’s research unit—are playing an intrinsic role in supporting the initiative.

    The CDI was announced on June 25, 2013, by U.S. President Barack Obama. Little more than a year later, progress is under way. Work on the Coastal Flooding Risks to Communities theme began in March, and in Washington, D.C., on July 29, the White House announced public and private partnerships and commitments in further support of CDI.

  • Station Q: the Quest for a Quantum Future

    Posted by Jennifer Warnick

    Station Q Michael Freedman at blackboard

    Station Q, headquarters of potentially world-changing quantum-computing research, is located just past where the Pacific Ocean meets the sand, up through a grove of palm trees and across a bike path. (Do mind the shirtless college student zipping past on a skateboard wearing only a backpack and swim trunks.)

    In some ways, Station Q is not at all what you’d expect from a hub for next-level computing research—there’s a strong Southern California vibe, with world-renowned experts turning up for work in Hawaiian shirts and shorts, and even a nearby room with a shower, a clothes rack full of faded wetsuits and battered, loaner surfboards leaning in the corner for those who do their best thinking while hanging ten.

    In other ways, Station Q’s surroundings are exactly what you’d think—equation-packed chalkboards hang in every office, meeting room and hallway; math and science comics taped outside office doors; and an academic air of silence (though there’s an underlying buzz to the place—a feeling of restlessness).

  • Project Adam and the Future of Programming

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Trishul Chilimbi

    Perhaps you’ve heard about Project Adam over the last few days. That work, which shows that large-scale, commodity distributed systems are able to train extra-large deep neural networks efficiently, has received its share of attention in the tech media this week after being featured during the 2014 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in the event-opening keynote address by Microsoft executive Harry Shum.

    Or maybe you saw the story On Welsh Corgis, Computer Vision, and the Power of Deep Learning, which appeared on the Microsoft Research website. That one was based on a fascinating interview with project colleagues Trishul Chilimbi and Johnson Apacible—one not dissimilar to Channel 9’s engaging video discussion with Chilimbi as part of the Microsoft Research Luminaries series.

  • Stopping Bugs Before They Sneak into Software

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Code analysis

    Software development is not for the faint-hearted. Programmers often work long hours, typing code while staring at computer monitors. Computer software can include millions of lines of code, so given the nature and the volume of the work involved, mistakes are unavoidable.

    Those mistakes—known in tech circles as “bugs”—can cause serious consequences for customers. Eliminating coding bugs is well-nigh impossible, but for software companies, reducing their numbers by any reasonable means is a high priority.

    Now, Microsoft researcher Andrew Begel and a few academic and industrial colleagues are trying a novel approach to reduce coding errors: tracking the eye movements and other mental and physical characteristics of developers as they work.

  • Making Cortana the Researcher’s Dream Assistant

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Microsoft Academic Search on Cortana

    Cortana, the personal assistant for Windows Phone 8.1, certainly has received plenty of attention since being announced in April. Her ability to make your day-to-day life easier by managing your information and keeping you up to date has made her one of the most discussed technological developments of the year.

    Now, Cortana is about to get smarter—way smarter.

    This fall, she will be able to point the way to a wealth of information from the academic community. Cortana is powered by Bing, and soon, that search engine will have academic data tightly integrated and prominently featured on its search pages.

    The new functionality, announced July 14 during the 15th annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, represents the latest step for Microsoft Academic Search, which has been a test bed for research ideas for fields such as data mining, named-entity disambiguation, and visualization. This research project has served as a means to explore the challenges in searching for scholarly works, such as achieving author disambiguation, determining publication influence, and constructing graphs of related authors.