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Windows on Theory
Posted by Rob Knies
I can’t read Japanese. I know it when I see it, but what I see is merely a succession of word symbols, indecipherable to my untrained eye. No matter, though, because these days, the Microsoft Translator service enables quick translations from Japanese to English, as easy as copy, paste, and click. I might not be able to read Japanese, but I have a tool at my disposal that enables me to understand documents written in that language.I can’t read the Nepali language either. But that language is not used by nearly as many people as Japanese, and, therefore, it doesn’t rank high on the list of languages to be added to translation tools. When it comes to understanding Nepali documents, I’m out of luck.That, however, could change with the commercial availability of the Microsoft Translator Hub, announced in Toronto on July 11 during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Now, businesses and communities have the ability to build, train, and deploy customized or built-from-scratch automatic language-translation systems. Those systems could be used to translate languages such as Nepali--or to apply to specialized domains with unique, specific terminology, such as health care, the legal profession, or technology.
The set was simple: a simulated office, with a desk, a chair, a floor lamp, a wall calendar, a row of bookshelves packed with scores of academic journals, a scraggly-looking plant at stage right—“a depressingly faithful reproduction of my office,” said Stephen Emmott.The latter, head of Computational Science at Microsoft Research, based in Cambridge, U.K., was greeting a July 14 audience, 80 strong, in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre in the Chelsea area of West London for the third of 27 performances of Ten Billion.The one-man, hour-long performance, a collaboration with British stage director Katie Mitchell, was billed as an exploration of the future of life on Earth, and the pairing was intriguing. As noted in this space back in May, Mitchell is one of the United Kingdom’s pre-eminent theatrical figures. Emmott, also a professor at the University of Oxford and University College London, leads the Computational Science Lab, which focuses on developing a new kind of precise, predictive science of complex systems.In short, Ten Billion reflected nothing less than a rarely visited intersection of science and art, reflected in Emmott’s comment about the engagement: “It’s not a play, it’s not a typical scientific talk. It’s an experiment.”
Soon after the founding of Microsoft Research Silicon Valley in 2001, its managing director, Roy Levin, began to bring in a series of researchers with extensive backgrounds in security in computing systems.Among those security-focused researchers was Martín Abadi, now a principal researcher at the facility, located in Mountain View, Calif. On Sept. 27, during Microsoft Research Silicon Valley’s event marking the 20th anniversary of Microsoft Research, he delivered one of five technical discussions during the day. Abadi’s was titled, simply, Security, in which he discussed Microsoft Research efforts to provide it.Security goes hand in hand with privacy, and both are critical to Microsoft Research Silicon Valley’s focus on distributed computing. But, as Abadi’s talk made clear, research in this area is far from simple.
In 1780, the nascent United States of America was still in the midst of the Revolutionary War. American pride suffused the former colonies’ scholar-patriots, and one result was the founding of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Among the cofounders was John Adams, then a historian and political theorist who, 16 years later, became the second president of the United States. Adams’ role in helping to create the academy certainly didn’t escape the attention of Eric Horvitz, Microsoft distinguished scientist and deputy managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond, who, in Cambridge, Mass., on Oct. 1, was inducted as one of the 179 of the nation’s most influential artists, scientists, scholars, authors, and institutional leaders in the academy’s 231st class of members.
“I was delighted to be invited to join a society that was cofounded by John Adams, someone I’ve long admired,” said Horvitz, pictured above signing his name into the academy’s Book of Members, a tradition that began in 1780. “Just a few years after the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and several other founders of the United States created the society in recognition of the importance of nurturing and celebrating the arts and sciences in an open and vibrant society.”
Imagine that you carry a small device that can make any nearby surface interactive—and that those surfaces can be manipulated via multitouch gestures and can store data.“Wouldn’t that be cool?”The enthusiasm belongs to David Molyneaux, and he is one of several Microsoft Research Cambridge researchers striving to bring this fanciful vision to reality, using interactive, environmentally aware projector systems embedded in handheld devices.“In the future,” Molyneaux predicts, “we will all have devices we carry around—maybe projectors integrated into mobile phones—that enable us to augment arbitrary surfaces and objects with digital content and relevant information. We will live in a 3-D ‘information space’ where objects, surfaces, and devices around us in the home or office can generate digital information or have it attached. These mobile devices will reveal this information and enable interaction with the information directly.”