By Rob Knies
October 14, 2010 10:00 AM PT
More than 70 million individuals are expected to visit Expo 2010 Shanghai China, which began May 1 and concludes Oct. 31. The event, designed to foster ways in which people can enjoy improved lives in the urban environments of the future, includes as one of its five themes “innovations of science and technology in the city.”
That sentiment was amplified across town Oct. 18-20 when Microsoft Research Asia hosted its Asia Faculty Summit 2010 and the 12th annual Computing in the 21st Century Conference.
The events underscored the facility’s commitment to active, mutually supportive collaboration with academia. The faculty summit, held Oct. 18-19, offered leading faculty members from universities across the Asia Pacific region a chance to hear from some of the world’s most eminent computer scientists and to share views about the opportunities offered by current technological advances and computing trends.
Many of those same faculty members also were on hand on Oct. 20 for the Computing in the 21st Century Conference, which drew almost 2,000 professors and students, from universities in Shanghai, Hangzhou, and adjacent areas, who gathered to gain exposure to the new horizons of computing.
No fewer than three winners of the prestigious A.M. Turing Award, commonly referred to as the “Nobel Prize of computing,” participated in one or both of the events, including Barbara Liskov, institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the 2008 Turing recipient; John Hopcroft, IBM Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, who won the award in 1986; and Chuck Thacker, a Microsoft technical fellow who works at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley and who in March was revealed as the winner of the 2009 honor.
That sort of star power is but one reason why the conference has drawn 30,000 attendees over its history—and has led Wenjun Zhang, vice president of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, to call the event “the most significant academic exchange in Chinese computer-science research.”
“This conference is a fantastic way for us to engage the academic community in the Asia Pacific region,” says Feng Zhao, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, “and to provide thought leadership on what’s coming to computing in the next five to 10 years.”
Attendees of the events learned about some of the areas in which cutting-edge research is being conducted today, much of it within Asia Pacific universities and research facilities. The Asia Faculty Summit and the Computing in the 21st Century Conference underscored opportunities for computer scientists, now and in the future, to play a role in solving society’s most challenging problems and to help determine how future generation will work, play, and communicate.
The excitement began Oct. 18 at the Hyatt on the Bund, with the first day of the Asia Faculty Summit, which featured as its theme Technological Trends and Future Talent. The event focused on three burgeoning directions of computer-science research:
The Asia Faculty Summit featured presentations and discussions that addressed the means by which technology can help to solve societal issues, as well as ways in which future talent can be best trained to meet the needs of society.
Attendees enjoyed a rare opportunity to interact directly with some of the world’s foremost experts in these areas and to communicate with researchers working on some of these intriguing technologies.
Lolan Song, senior director of University Relations for Microsoft Research Asia, opened the event by welcoming the attendees and providing an overview of Microsoft Research Asia’s collaborative efforts with academics.
“About 300 people attended the Faculty Summit this year,” Song says, “from 90 universities and research institutes in Asia. They were deans, department heads, researchers, and faculty members representing computer science, electrical engineering, and other cross-disciplinary areas.”
Rick Rashid, Microsoft Research senior vice president, provided an update on his organization’s activities, and Thacker delivered a presentation entitled RARE: Rethinking Architectural Research and Education.
The morning session concluded with a panel discussion on the Internet of Things, chaired by Zhao and featuring David Culler, professor and associate chair of the Computer Science Division within the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley; Guihai Chen of Nanjing University; Hideyuki Tokuda of Japan’s Keio University; and Catharine van Ingen, partner architect for the External Research division of Microsoft Research.
The first of four presentations during the afternoon session on Oct. 18, Cloud Computing Paradigm Shift, was delivered by Enwei Xie, general manager of Microsoft China’s Greater China Region Developer Platform Evangelism group.
A second Turing Award recipient, Hopcroft, followed with a presentation entitled Growing Talent, for which Baining Guo, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, served as session chair. That talk fell squarely into another of the Asia Faculty Summit’s focus areas, the increasing importance of talent development amid the complexity of multiple computing technologies and the need for diversified skills, which will require curriculum investments by universities to identify, train, and inspire this talent.
A pair of esteemed Microsoft researchers delivered the day’s final presentations. Curtis Wong, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Redmond, discussed The WorldWide Telescope: Challenges and Opportunities with Visualizing a Universe of Big Data, along with Chenzhou Cui, chief information officer at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. And Wei-Ying Ma, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, talked on Empowering People with Knowledge: The Next Frontier for Web Search.
The day concluded with a second panel discussion, entitled Fourth Paradigm—Exploring Trends and Talents for Data-Intensive Science, chaired by Tony Hey, corporate vice president of External Research and co-editor of the recent book The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery. The panelists included Key-Sun Choi of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Jinpeng Huai of Beihang University; Jimmy Liu of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research; and Junichi Tsujii of the University of Tokyo and the University of Manchester.
The second day of the Faculty Summit featured a trio of morning breakout sessions:
On the afternoon of Oct. 19, the faculty members attended a demo fair held at Microsoft’s Zizhu campus in Shanghai to explore and discuss 22 technology projects from Microsoft Research Asia, other Microsoft Research facilities, and a host of Asia Pacific academic partners.
“The summit provided valuable opportunities for Asian academia to meet with each other and to explore collaborative opportunities with the researchers at Microsoft Research Asia,” Song said. “It is the most exciting and significant event for University Relations this year, and I enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones.”
One of the biggest, most influential gatherings in computer-science education in the Asia Pacific region, the Computing in the 21st Century Conference, chaired by Zhao, was held for the second time in Shanghai, where the event occurred in 2001. This year’s conference featured the theme People, Computing and the Physical World.
Those in attendance Oct. 20 at Shanghai Jiao Tong University—co-host of the conference, along with Microsoft Research Asia—heard about the connections between people and computing, the intricacies of the physical and cyber worlds, and the impact of cloud computing and sensor networking on people’s lives.
Zhao notes how the conference has evolved over the last dozen years.
“We have been at the epicenter of leading computer-science research in this region for the last 12 years,” he says. “This conference has been a watershed of change in the computing scene. It’s been an incredible journey, from core computing to the broad societal impact of computing.”
Leading lights in computer science from China and around the world spoke during the event. All three of the aforementioned Turing winners appeared, and the intellectual firepower hardly stopped there.
In addition to keynote addresses from Liskov, Thacker, and Hopcroft, the audience heard talks from Rashid; Culler; Mahadev Satyanarayanan, Carnegie Group Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University; and Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia.
“We had an exciting and diverse set of speakers this year,” Zhao says. “This was a forum for students, faculty members, and leading scientists from around the world to have an engaging dialogue on where computing is heading and what it means to society in areas such as energy, environment, and social networks.”