Two Anniversaries, One Shared Focus
October 24, 2011 8:00 PM PT

In 2011, Tsinghua University, one of the icons of Chinese academia at the forefront of China’s pursuit of science and engineering excellence and an institution known for its achievements in education and research, is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Meanwhile, Microsoft Research Asia is one of several facilities around the world marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of Microsoft Research this year.

The connections between Tsinghua and Microsoft Research Asia are deep and varied, so, as both institutions observe their respective milestones, the opportunity to acknowledge both proved irresistible. That’s why, in Beijing on Oct. 26, the 13th annual Computing in the 21st Century Conference will be held at Tsinghua University.

The event, jointly hosted by Microsoft Research Asia and Tsinghua University, is expected to attract more than 2,000 faculty and university students from Beijing and its neighbor city, Tianjin.

The theme of the conference, “Back to Basics: Fundamental Research Fuels Innovation,” is certainly ambitious, but then, that should be no great surprise. The conference, organized each year by Microsoft Research Asia, is one of the Asia Pacific region’s biggest, most influential gatherings in computer-science education and research. Over the years, more than 32,000 attendees have had an opportunity to hear keynote speeches and exchange ideas with thought leaders from China and elsewhere in Asia.

Chen Xu, vice chairman of the Tsinghua University Council, certainly is aware of the advantages the conference provides to the computer-science ecosystem—and of the anniversary alignments the event represents.

“Tsinghua University and Microsoft Research Asia have been working closely in scientific research, talent fostering, academic exchanges, and curriculum innovation, producing beautiful results,” she said. “It is also our great pleasure to observe these grand milestones together, and I have every reason to believe that exciting keynote speeches by gurus in computing science from home and abroad will enlighten us with valuable insights and rosy perspectives.”

Previous editions of the 21st Century Computing Conference have featured winners of the A.M. Turing Award, the most significant honor bestowed by the computing field, as well as Microsoft scientists and well-known scholars from all over the world.

Rick Rashid, chief research officer for Microsoft, will be delivering the first of six keynote addresses during this year’s conference, and he looks forward to the opportunity.

“Ever since its inception, Microsoft Research has been committed to advancing the state of the art across the breadth of computing and to fulfilling the grand vision of Microsoft through basic yet promising scientific research,” he said. “Through this Computing in the 21st Century Conference, we hope to share the latest results and trends in computer-science research with Chinese academia and to help improve basic research in China.”

Wei-Ying Ma, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, will serve as chairman for the conference, and the first of the keynotes he will introduce will come from Rashid, entitled “Microsoft Research: Turning Ideas into Reality for 20 Years.”

Following him will be five additional computer-science luminaries:

  • Edmund M. Clarke, FORE Systems University Professor of Computer Science and professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, was a Turing Award winner in 2007. His talk will be “Model Checking and the Curse of Dimensionality.”
  • Emmanuel Candes, professor of Mathematics and of Statistics and professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, will deliver a presentation on “Compressive Sensing.”
  • Andrew Chi-Chih Yao, dean of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences at Tsinghua University and winner of the Turing Award in 2000, will entice the audience with “Quantum Computing: A Great Science in the Making.”
  • Joseph Halpern, professor and chair of the Computer Science Department at Cornell University, will provide a talk called “Beyond Nash Equilibrium: Solution Concepts for the 21st Century.”
  • Hsiao-Wuen Hon, Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, will discuss “Extracting Models from Data.”

The eventful day will conclude with a panel discussion with worldwide research leaders talking about the challenges and opportunities that fundamental research brings to China. Peter Lee, Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond, will moderate the discussion, which will feature:

  • Xi Chen, of Columbia University.
  • John Hopcroft, of Cornell University.
  • Jianping Wu, of Tsinghua University.
  • Qian Zhang, of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
  • Victor Zue, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Along the way, Rashid, Clarke, and Candes will participate in a question-and-answer session to end the morning’s events, and Chi-Chih, Halpern, and Hon will do the same in the afternoon. And the day also features a ceremony to recognize Chinese winners of Microsoft Research Asia’s Fellowship Awards, which aim to empower and encourage Ph.D. students to realize their potential in computer-science-related research.

Previous instances of the conference have been held at a variety of cities across China and the Asia Pacific region, but no matter where they are staged, they share the common denominator of promoting communication and collaboration between Microsoft and academia in exploring the potential computer science has to offer. This year’s event should prove no different.

“I am delighted to join Tsinghua University in welcoming faculty and students to our 21st Century Computing Conference,” Hon said. “We will explore the important, fundamental role of research in the 21st century, promote the development of computing research in China and across Asia, and demonstrate how basic research is critical to building an infrastructure for sustainable innovation.”