Walk through the halls of Microsoft’s research labs, and you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with many of the world’s finest computer scientists, sociologists, psychologists, mathematicians, physicists, anthropologists, medical doctors, and engineers. They represent one of the most diverse, influential brain trusts ever assembled, and their contributions are making an indelible mark on the world’s computing research community. They chair major conferences and lead research committees. Academic peers regularly select more of their research papers than those of any other organization for publication at major conferences, such as the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM’s) SIGCHI, SIGIR, SIGMOD, and SIGGRAPH.
Among Microsoft Research’s great minds are the co-creators of the laser printer, the Ethernet local-area network, and the Mach operating system. There are winners of the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology and the A.M. Turing award — two of the most prestigious awards presented to computer scientists. There are fellows of the Royal Society and winners of other prestigious prizes, including the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the Charles Stark Draper Prize, the Fields Medal given by the International Mathematical Union, the IEEE John von Neumann Medal, the IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award, the Gödel Prize, the Computer Graphics Achievement Awards from SIGGRAPH, the SIGCHI Academy Award, and even Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards. One Microsoft researcher has been knighted by the Queen of the United Kingdom.
As diverse as their accomplishments and areas of research are, virtually all Microsoft researchers share a passion to see their innovations improve the lives of people around the world. Ask them why they joined Microsoft Research, and most will point to the widespread use of Microsoft products and the company’s dedication to basic research, which enables them to pursue their interests and helps their ideas reach more people in more places than any other company or research organization.
A sampling of the all-star team of researchers Microsoft has assembled includes:
Chuck Thacker, a technical fellow at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley. Thacker has been an innovator in computing since the 1960s. Before joining Microsoft in 1997 as director of Advanced Systems in the Microsoft Research lab in Cambridge, England, Thacker worked for the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, and the Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) Systems Research Center. He served as project leader of the MAXC time-sharing system and as chief designer on Alto, the first personal computer to use a bit-mapped display and a mouse for its user interface. Thacker is also co-inventor of the Ethernet local-area network, the first laser printer, the DEC Firefly multiprocessor workstation, and the AN1 and AN2 networks. Thacker has received many honors for his work, including the 2004 Charles Stark Draper Prize, for his contribution to development of the first networked distributed personal-computer system, and the 2007 John von Neumann Medal, for his central role in the creation of the personal computer and thedevelopment of networked computer systems.
Yi Ma, research manager of Microsoft Research Asia’s Visual Computing Group, which focuses on research into computer vision, pattern recognition, machine learning, and image and video editing. Ma and his team are advancing the state of the art in areas such as highly accurate face detection, tracking, alignment, and recognition. By designing systems that can adapt to different lighting conditions and variations in poses and expressions, Microsoft researchers can contribute to improvements in areas such as human-computer interaction, graphics and animation, security and surveillance, and desktop photo management. Ma says: “My main research interest is in finding the most pertinent mathematical principles for analyzing and understanding high-dimensional sensorial data such as images so that machines and humans can make more intelligent decisions.”
Dan Morris, a researcher in the Computational User Experiences group at Microsoft Research Redmond. An accomplished musician, Morris has a special interest in creativity and the arts and is part of a team that created Songsmith, a Microsoft application that enables novice songwriters to create original songs with full musical accompaniment simply by singing into a PC microphone. With a background in surgical simulation, cyberkinetics, and clinical neural prosthetics, Morris also is researching physiological signal analysis, as well as alternative input devices and interfaces for improved ergonomics.
Venkat Padmanabhan, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research India who leads the Mobility, Networks, and Systems group. Padmanabhan conducts a broad range of research on network systems, including the intersection of sensor systems and mobile computing, wireless networking, RFID, geolocation, network tomography, and peer-to-peer networking. He developed the ProbeGap bandwidth-probing tool and the GeoCluster technique for IP-location mapping, both of which have been incorporated into Microsoft products. He also helped develop the RADAR WLAN-based user localization system, which was made available through the company’s technology-licensing program.
“Computer science is all about possibilities. I chose this field because I wanted to do things that haven’t been done before—to solve life’s really big challenges. Microsoft Research gives me the opportunity to accomplish this goal.”
— Mary Czerwinski, Research Area Manager, Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment Research Group
Steve Hodges, manager of Microsoft Research Cambridge’s Sensors and Devices Group, a cross-disciplinary team working to deliver compelling new user experiences in computing. Hodges and his team have made significant contributions to surface computing, which turns an ordinary tabletop into a vibrant, interactive surface and provides effortless access to digital content through natural gestures, touch, and interaction with physical objects. Hodges says the ultimate goal of his research is “to better understand how advances in technology will impact traditional computing and the ways in which people use and interact with computing devices.”
Wei-Ying Ma, assistant managing director at Microsoft Research Asia. Ma’s team of researchers has become a widely recognized global powerhouse in search, data mining, and multimedia information retrieval. His team has transferred key technologies into Microsoft’s search and online-service products. In the mid-1990s, Ma developed Netra, one of the first image-retrieval systems and still regarded as one of the most influential in the industry.
Merrie Morris, a researcher in the Adaptive Systems and Interaction group at Microsoft Research Redmond, focusing on human-computer interaction and computer-supported cooperative work. Morris’s research interests include facilitating small-group collaboration on Web-search tasks and exploring the use of horizontal interactive displays for a variety of entertainment, educational, and productivity applications. Morris is also an affiliate faculty member in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington and has authored or co-authored numerous publications on topics such as collaborative research and surface computing.
Leslie Lamport, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley. Lamport is internationally recognized as an expert in distributed algorithms, and Lamport’s research contributions over the years have laid the foundation for distributed systems. During the 1980s, he created LaTex, a document-markup language and document-preparation system widely used by mathematicians, scientists, engineers, philosophers, economists, and other scholars. Lamport, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is the recipient of the Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize in Distributed Computing, the IEEE John von Neumann Medal, the ACM SIGOPS Hall of Fame Award, and the IEEE Piore Award, among many other honors.
danah boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. One of the world’s leading experts on social networking, especially among young people, boyd is doing breakthrough work on the social and cultural effects of these technologies. Shortly after joining Microsoft in January 2009, boyd wrote about the balance between basic and applied research at the company: “Microsoft Research is hands down the most impressive research institution I’ve seen. Even though my research has product implications, I’m not a product person, but I love being in a place where my work funnels into products.”
Luca Cardelli, principal researcher, joined Microsoft Research, Cambridge, in 1997 as an expert in the design and properties of programming languages. He built the first compiler for ML which is the direct forerunner of the groundbreaking F# language that has been developed by Microsoft for Visual Studio 2010. His work on ML and Modula-3 also laid the foundations for the near-universal acceptance today of type-safe programming languages like C# and Java. His visionary language-based approach to Systems Biology has positioned Microsoft Research as a pioneer in this booming field, in which insights from programming languages are used to help tame the prodigious complexities of modelling biological systems.
Sriram Rajamani, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India and the leader of the Rigorous Software Engineering group. Rajamani’s group works to improve programmer productivity by bringing rigor to all aspects of software development. He uses his firsthand experience in the realities of commercial software development to guide his choice of problems and approaches to research in software productivity. Before joining Microsoft Research, Rajamani managed the company’s Software Productivity Tools group, and he and his team developed projects such as SLAM, Static Driver Verifier, Behave!, and Zing.
Michael Cohen, a principal researcher in the Interactive Visual Media Group. Before joining Microsoft Research Redmond, Cohen served on the Computer Science faculty at Princeton University and the Architecture faculty at Cornell University, where he did research on radiosity, which enables more realistic rendering of light and shadows by tracing the energy emitted from light sources. Cohen was also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Utah, focusing on space-time control for linked figure animation. The co-author of a book, Radiosity and Image Synthesis, Cohen won the 1998 SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award for his work on radiosity. At Microsoft, Cohen’s research on image-based rendering includes the Lumigraph, which captures the flow of light and enables the re-creation of an image from multiple angles, and computer applications for photography.
Rakesh Agrawal, a Microsoft technical fellow at Search Labs in Silicon Valley. Search Labs is developing new technologies that enhance the user experience in Internet search and services. Agrawal is well known for developing fundamental data-mining concepts and technologies and for pioneering key concepts in data privacy, including the Hippocratic Database, Sovereign Information Sharing, and Privacy-Preserving Data Mining. Agrawal has been granted more than 55 patents and has published more than 150 research papers, many of them considered seminal. His work has been honored with the ACM SIGKDD First Innovation Award, the ACM SIGMOD Edgar F. Codd Innovations Award, the ACM SIGMOD Test of Time Award, and many others. In 2003, Scientific American named him one of the top 50 scientists and technologists.
Dongmei Zhang, senior researcher and research manager of the Software Analytics Group at Microsoft Research Asia. Zhang has done pivotal work in digital ink and digital media. Her Handwritten Math Equation Recognizer makes it easy to convert a complicated handwritten mathematical equation into an accurate, digitally rendered representation that can be used in a report or a presentation. She and her team also developed East Asian Language Recognition technology, which improves digital recognition of handwritten text in traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.
Cynthia Dwork, distinguished scientist at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley. Dwork has made fundamental contributions to complexity theory, distributed computing, and cryptography. She has developed powerful new privacy definitions and applied them to a wide range of dataanalysis problems. A recipient of the 2007 Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize in Distributed Computing and the 2009 PET Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies, Dwork is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
A.J. Brush, a senior researcher in the Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment group at Microsoft Research Redmond. Brush’s work focuses on how technology can help people with everyday problems, such as reducing e-mail overload and enabling families to coordinate their schedules and stay connected. Her research interests include human-computer interaction, with a focus on ubiquitous computing and computer-supported cooperative work. She builds technology to support asynchronous collaboration in small groups and explores non-traditional ways for people to interact with technology — to move beyond the mouse and keyboard.
Microsoft Research: In-Depth
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