By Rob Knies
July 16, 2012 9:00 AM PT
More than ever, computer-science research is instrumental in addressing the challenges of life in the 21st century. Whether it be the explosive growth of social media or broad advances in human-computer interaction, technology—and research into its new and varied forms—is delivering new possibilities and bringing an array of future vistas into focus. It’s an exciting scenario to behold.
That’s what Microsoft Research’s Faculty Summit 2012, to be held July 16 and 17, is all about. The event, in its 13th year, enables academic researchers and educators to meet and mingle with researchers, engineers, and architects from Microsoft to discuss the myriad of new opportunities that greet us. A record number of more than 420 academics from the world’s most prestigious universities will convene at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond, Wash., to share ideas, hear from some of the best and brightest voices extant, and join forces to change the world anew.
Intrigued, but can’t make it? That’s not an issue for this year’s event. Microsoft Research Connections has arranged for selected keynotes and panel discussions to be streamed live each day. Check the virtual-event page for details.
“Computing is growing inits ability to address important technical, social, and societal challenges,” says Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, who will be welcoming participants to the event on the morning of July 16. “The Faculty Summit provides an opportunity for Microsoft and the academic research community to exchange ideas, collaborate, and recognize the significant advances and breakthroughs that are occurring.”
Hey’s welcome will be followed by an opening keynote by Eric Horvitz, Microsoft distinguished scientist and deputy managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond. Horvitz’s talk is entitled Predictions, Decisions, and Intelligence in the Open World, and it will discuss how machine learning and inference are leading to a confluence of techniques that can provide integrative solutions that operate over time, including reliance on big data, one of the main themes of the event.
The Faculty Summit’s other theme will be explored by Rick Rashid, Microsoft chief research officer and head of Microsoft Research, who will deliver a keynote to open the second day of the event, with the title Blending of Physical and Virtual Worlds—From Research to Reality. That talk will present research advancing the state of the art in natural user interfaces and augmented reality.
No less fascinating will be the closing keynote, Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalaya. Renowned filmmaker, adventurer, and mountaineer David Breashears will discuss his 11 expeditions to the Greater Himalaya to document the world's highest and least studied glaciers. Using comparative photography, Breashears and the GlacierWorks team have recorded the loss of glacial mass and other changes that have occurred over the past century.
“Technology can play a critical role,” Breashears says, “in creating rich, interactive digital-media stories.”
This year’s Faculty Summit agenda, for which Susan Dumais and Judith Bishop are serving as program chairs, features a variety of breakout sessions—21 in all. Attendees also will get an opportunity to browse through the 25 cutting-edge technology projects that constitute DemoFest 2012.
“This year’s agenda,” says Harold Javid, general chair for the event, “reflects current, in-the-news topics such as developments in social media, Internet governance, and the use of technology to combat criminal activity.”
One breakout session of note, Faculty Fellows Inspiring the Next Generation of Computer Scientists, will be chaired by Rane Johnson-Stempson, principal research director of Education & Scholarly Communication for Microsoft Research Connections, and Lucy Sanders, CEO and co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology. The latter organization has launched a campaign called Sit with Me, which encourages the recognition of the important role women play in creating future technology. Supporters of the initiative sit in a red chair to share their stories, and among those who have done so are the members of the Microsoft Research leadership team and top women researchers from Microsoft.
“Research shows that women aged 40 to 60 are the biggest users of technology,” Johnson-Stempson says. “Women influence 80 percent of consumer spending decisions, and yet 90 percent of technology products and services are designed by men. By 2018, there will be 1.4 million open roles in the computing industry, and currently, only 1,800 women graduate from computer-science Bachelor of Science programs annually. When I speak to parents and educators, they don’t realize the issue and the opportunity.
“I am super-passionate about technology, education, STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], and how young women can change the world and make a huge impact in computing.”
Johnson-Stempson will also join danah boyd of Microsoft Research New England to discuss a recent Microsoft Research request for proposals designed to combat human trafficking and demonstrate the role technology can play.
Another breakout session, addressing the big-data theme, is called Big Heritage, Big Quilts, and Big Canvases, chaired by Donald Brinkman, who manages external programs in digital humanities, digital heritage, and games for learning for Microsoft Research Connections. He will join Anne Balsamo of the University of Southern California, Andries van Dam of Brown University, and Ethan Watrall of Michigan State University to discuss the importance of visualization of large data collections to the domain of cultural heritage.
Included in the discussion will be the technological and social challenges of creating interactive exhibits around the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community-created piece of folk art in the world.
During Faculty Summit, the 2012 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellows, recognized by Microsoft Research as representing the best and brightest in their fields, will be introduced, as will the winners of the 2012 Software Engineering Innovation Foundation Awards, which support academic research in software-engineering technologies, tools, practices, and teaching methods.
Microsoft Research Connections also will unveil a new ebook, Science@Microsoft - The Fourth Paradigm in Practice, a collection of vignettes that illustrate the assistance Microsoft is providing to scientists to hasten progress on some of the great problems facing our society. Following its release during the Faculty Summit, the book will be available for download.
For live updates as the 2012 Faculty Summit proceeds, visit the Microsoft Research Connections Blog.