15 Years of Advances, Collaboration in Asia
Microsoft Research
October 29, 2013 11:00 PM PT

Fifteen years. That’s how long Microsoft Research Asia has been demonstrating the value of basic research in the Asia Pacific region.

Innovation Day logo

On Nov. 4, 1998, Chinese governmental officials and representatives from prominent Chinese research institutions were on hand in Beijing when Microsoft announced the creation of a new research facility, what was to become the company’s second international research lab.

Fifteen years. So what has Microsoft—and the greater research community—gained from this venture? Consider:

  • More than 3,000 papers published in top-tier research conferences and journals, covering a broad swath of topics that define modern-day computing.
  • Revolutionary technology in areas such as next-generation multimedia, search, natural user interfaces, data-intensive computing, and the fundamentals of computer science.
  • Hundreds of technologies transferred to Microsoft products.
  • A deep, vibrant impact on the academic community and across the region.

Not bad, for starters.

Microsoft Research Asia is a unique organization, one designed to be strategically independent. Its researchers work freely to solve some of the most challenging problems facing the world today. Its work has resonated not only across the Asia Pacific region, but also around the world. The lab’s presence has extended the state of the art in ways innumerable.

Now, 15 years almost to the day after its founding, Microsoft Research Asia will be celebrating by doing what it does best: sharing the fruits of its labors and building even deeper relations with academia. The former comes on Oct. 30 on Microsoft’s Beijing West campus, with Innovation Day 2013, in which representatives of regional media outlets will get a chance to view some of the most cutting-edge research prototypes under way at the Beijing lab, elsewhere within Microsoft, and at partner institutions.

“During Innovation Day 2013, we invite guests to join us on a special journey, a journey celebrating our story of innovation,” says Hsiao-Wuen Hon, a Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research Asia. “Guests will get a chance to witness how Microsoft Research uniquely brings innovation to life every day. Today, we celebrate not only our past success, but also set our sights clearly on the future before us.”

As part of the Innovation Day festivities, Hon will be available to the assembled media for a press conference that also will feature Peter Lee, Microsoft corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Research, and Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research.

“We are pleased,” Hon says, “to have our leaders, Peter Lee and Jeannette Wing, join us in their first public engagement in China since they have taken their new roles.”

The academic part of the anniversary festivities comes two days later, in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province in east China. Recognized as a hub of scientific and technological research, the city will welcome attendees of the 15th Computing in the 21st Century Conference, co-hosted by Microsoft Research Asia and the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). With the theme of Decoding the Future, the event will feature a collection of academic and scientific authorities from around the world who will share computing trends and recent research results with thousands of college students and faculty members.

Combined, the activities over the two days are designed to demonstrate the lab’s passion for technology and innovation, part of what enables Microsoft’s unique, compelling vision for the future of computing to make a decided impact across Asia.

For Innovation Day, a total of 21 demos will be on display, clustered in four themes: natural user interfaces, big data and machine learning, cloud and mobile, and product impact. Samples of the kinds of projects on display include:

  • Natural user interfaces: In an intriguing project from Korea, researchers from Seoul National University and its Bundang Hospital are using the Kinect motion-sensing device to assist stroke patients in home-based rehabilitation of their upper limbs. Expensive rehabilitation care is made much less expensive and thus can be afforded by a much larger share of the affected population, leading to improved quality of life and increased interaction with each other—a game-changing approach from a gaming device.

Also featured will be Kinect for Sign Language, a collaboration between Microsoft Research, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Beijing Union University that uses Kinect, Bing Dictionary, Microsoft Translator, language modeling, and 3-D modeling to provide a tool that enables those who can hear to communicate with those who cannot. The demo will feature Dandan Yin, a deaf student from Beijing Union University, signing in Chinese sign language and Matt Scott of Microsoft Research speaking English.

  • Big data and machine learning: Human-Building Analytics: A Sensor-Driven Approach is the title of a Microsoft Research Asia effort to enable improved living environments. The key insight here is that it is important to make data analysis of building performance human-centric. Human-Building Analytics personalizes such analyses to the needs of the individuals who reside in a building by looking at the behaviors of those occupants and then adapting the features of buildings to those behaviors. Imagine a building in which the elevator arrives when you approach and energy usage can be monitored and optimized for each person.
  • Cloud and mobile: A project called Indoor Localization/Navigation with Multi-Sensor Fusion also takes computing to the structural level by providing practical, low-energy, universal indoor localization based on the fusing of input from multiple sensors. This combination of Wi-Fi, magnetism, and inertial sensors produces a highly accurate, robust system that can operate in even the most challenging indoor locations. The use of multiple sensors of various types means the system can adapt without requiring repeated Wi-Fi scans, which are energy-inefficient and require network connectivity from a mobile device.
  • Research-driven product innovation: Formerly known by the project code name GeoFlow and now called Power Map, this Excel add-in provides capabilities for mapping, exploring, and interacting with geographical and temporal data, enabling users to discover and share new insights. The tool delivers such information via stunning 3-D data visualizations. Users can examine data in various ways, such as 3-D columns, bubble or pie charts, heat maps, and regions, making critical but confusing data finally comprehensible. Digital marketers can better target and time their campaigns, while environmentally conscious companies can fine-tune energy-saving programs across peak usage times. This key piece of the business-intelligence capabilities of Power BI in Excel has its roots in the visual-experience engine powered by the WorldWide Telescope from Microsoft Research.

“While a picture is worth a thousand words,” Hon says, “we are excited today to offer the rare opportunity of seeing live demonstrations of research emerging from the halls and labs of Microsoft Research Asia. We will present more than 20 demonstrations to our guests in the journey, some of which have never been experienced before.”

One of the day’s demos, though, falls outside the themed structure of the day, and by now, you’re probably at least somewhat aware of it: speech-to-speech translation. In Tianjin, China, when Rick Rashid, then Microsoft’s chief research officer, closed last year’s Computing in the 21st Century Conference by making closing remarks in English that were translated on the fly into near-flawless Mandarin received rapturously by an audience of Chinese academics, the news traveled at lightning speed. During this year’s Innovation Day, an onstage demo of speech-to-speech translation will show a bidirectional conversation occurring in two languages.

About Rashid: Although he has chosen, 22 years after he founded Microsoft Research, to move back into the operating-system realm, he will be delivering the opening keynote speech at Hefei Grand Theatre during this year’s Computing in the 21st Century Conference. It will be the first of six keynotes of the day, all delivered by leaders in their respective fields and certain to provide a provocative survey of the current state of computer-science research:

  • The Role of Basic Research in Innovation—A Look Back and a Look Forward: Rashid, who remains a corporate vice president at Microsoft, will deliver a talk about a subject he knows better than anyone.
  • From Programs to Systems—Building a Smarter World:nJoseph Sifakis, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, was the 2007 recipient of the A.M. Turing Award, the most prestigious honor in computing.
  • The Future of Internet Search: Intent, Knowledge and Interaction:nHarry Shum, corporate vice president of search development for Microsoft, is a former managing director of Microsoft Research Asia.
  • From QoS to QoE: Towards Experience-Centric Evaluations of Tele-Immersive Environments: Klara Nahrstedt is associate head of the Computer Science Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Surprising Discoveries from Affective Computing:nRosalind W. Picard is director and founder of the Affective Computing Research Groups at the MIT Media Lab.
  • The Impact of Computer Science Research on Science, Technology, and Society: The speaker, Wing, is in charge of Microsoft Research’s core research laboratories around the world. She also oversees Microsoft Research Connections.

In addition, the afternoon session in Hefei will feature a panel discussion about massive open online courses, moderated by Hon. Panelists include Anoop Gupta, Microsoft distinguished scientist and part of the Microsoft Research management team; P. Anandan, also a Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research India; Weiping Li, professor and dean of the USTC School of Information Science and Technology; and Yueyi Zhang, a USTC-Microsoft Research Asia joint Ph.D. student.

Over the years, the Computing in the 21st Century Conference has become one of the biggest, most influential conferences in computer-science education and research in China and the Asia Pacific region. The event has been held in China and several other countries in the region, and more than 38,000 participants have attended the conference in previous years.

This year’s event will continue that record of success by focusing on tele-immersive environments, affective computing, intelligent systems, big data, and the future trends of computer science. Fifteen years on, while celebrating its accomplishments, Microsoft Research Asia remains devoted to helping identify and perfect the innovations of the next 15—and beyond.

“It’s all a part of our commitment to expanding the state of the art in computing,” Hon concludes, “and making a very real impact on Microsoft and in the world.”