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TechVista: Science, Academia Converge
January 22, 2011 12:57 AM PT

An intersection of the worlds of science and academia. A dialogue involving computer scientists, governmental officials, and top students. A daylong discussion about state-of-the-art research and promising avenues for the future.

All these and more occurred Jan. 21 during TechVista 2011, the seventh in a series of annual research symposiums hosted by Microsoft Research India, held alongside the Mula Mutha River at the Westin hotel within Koregaon Park in Pune, India.

Esteemed computer scientists and thought leaders from India and abroad mingled, exchanged ideas, presented current research efforts, learned from each other, and looked forward to the advances sustained exploration will deliver in the years ahead.

TechVista logo

”TechVista has grown in size and importance with each passing year,” said P. Anandan, Microsoft distinguished engineer and managing director of Microsoft Research India, “and we have been overwhelmed by the response in all the cities where we have held the event.  We are delighted about the value TechVista is delivering to the attendees and with the vast interest in computer science and research that exists in India.”

Morning and afternoon sessions revealed a variety of facets of computer-science research. Top speakers from academia and industry addressed TechVista 2011 attendees in the morning, and, after lunch, visitors got an opportunity to sample a wealth of technical lectures from expert researchers, investigate the latest projects from Microsoft Research personnel from around the globe, and examine posters sketching ideas from India’s most promising Ph.D. students.

Oh, and there was also something else at stake: The top posters, as judged by a panel of experts, collected tidy sums as their rewards. The competition, the judges reported, was nothing less than spirited.

TechVista 2011, Microsoft Research India’s flagship event, opened with introductory remarks by Anandan and R.A. Mashelkar, former director general of India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, who served as the guest of honor.

Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research worldwide, then addressed the crowd before turning the stage over to Shri Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of the Indian state of Maharashtra and chief guest for the event.

The rest of the morning session was devoted to a pair of highly anticipated keynote addresses.

The first, by Andrew Blake, managing director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, was entitled Technologies for Natural User Interface. Blake, a key member of the team that developed the machine-learning technology for the revolutionary, controller-free Xbox 360Kinect, discussed this new generation of user interfaces and its implications for the future of human-computer interaction.

Mathai Joseph, member at large of the Association for Computing Machinery’s India Council and an advisor for Tata Consultancy Services, delivered remarks titled The Time Is Now! A former executive director of the Tata Research Design and Development Center, he underscored the need to continue development of the people and the creative environment that will enable the software industry to keep on harnessing the intellectual capital computer scientists can use to shape the future.

During the afternoon session of TechVista 2011, those in attendance got to choose from a bevy of tempting options.

They could linger among a collection of cutting-edge technical demos from some of Microsoft Research’s top talents, who showed their current research successes.

Alternatively, there was a collection of fascinating, thought-provoking posters on display, accompanied by young Ph.D. students eager to discuss their work with all comers.

Meanwhile, four leading researchers from Microsoft’s world-class facilities delivered lectures that addressed a sampling of the state of the art in computer science in the second decade of the millennium:

The demos on display during the afternoon session pertained to a broad spectrum of research disciplines and reflected the diverse, high-achieving nature of the work conducted by Microsoft Research’s 10 facilities around the globe. Among those on display:

  • Multilingual Name Search: Enabling users to search people directories across languages using the language of their choice.
  • Wikipedia on TV-DVD for Low-Income Communities: Providing a large subset of Wikipedia to poor communities via DVD.
  • WikiBhasha: A multilingual content-creation tool for Wikipedia that lets users explore content from the English version of Wikipedia, translate those articles, and add and correct the articles as appropriate.
  • Kinect: Gesture-based control of video games on the Xbox 360.
  • Approximability of Subspace Approximation: Identifying subspace fits that satisfy the subspace-approximation problem given a data set of points in large dimensions.
  • Rich Interactive Narratives: Combining the compelling, time-tested narrative elements of multimedia storytelling with the information-rich, exploratory nature of the latest generation of information-visualization and -exploration technologies.
  • SensorMap Based on Windows Azure: Fast, scalable services for users on a web-based platform, developed by Microsoft Research Asia, to collect and share data with localization information from different kinds of sensors.
  • OneAlbum: Automatic identification of relevant photos from friends’ albums on social networks and importing them into your albums, side-by-side with photos you’ve taken.
  • Separations Among Predicate Encryption Schemes: Enabling the embedding of certain attributes into a ciphertext and a Boolean function on those attributes into a key such that the key can decrypt the ciphertext only if the attributes of the ciphertext satisfy the Boolean function of the key.

Ph.D. students from eight leading Indian educational institutions showed posters during TechVista 2011. Of the 17 research posters on display from computer-science and electrical-engineering students, 10 were from campuses of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT)—six from Bombay, and two each from Delhi and Kharagpur. The Indian Institutes of Information Technology contributed three, two from the Delhi campus and one from Bangalore, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, based in Mumbai, had two posters on display. Also represented, with one each, were the Indian Statistical Institute, of Kolkata, and the Indian Institute of Science, of Bangalore.

The posters were selected in a competitive process, and the students chosen got an opportunity to show their research work not only to their peers, but also to the high-profile audience in attendance. A panel of Microsoft Research judges—including Peter Lee, Microsoft distinguished engineer and managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond; Anoop Gupta, Microsoft distinguished engineer; and Satya Lokam, manager of the Cryptography, Security, and Applied Mathematics group at Microsoft Research India—chose the top three posters

Ruta Mehta of IIT Bombay won the top prize, for the poster Rank-1 Two Player Games: A Homeomorphism and a Polynomial Time Algorithm. She was advised by professors Bharat Adsul and Milind Sohoni. Saptarshi Ghosh of IIT Kharagpur, advised by Niloy Ganguly, was the runner-up, for Effects of a Soft Cut-off on Number of Links in the Twitter Online Social Network, a project done in association with undergraduate students Gautam Korlam of IIT Kharagpur and Ajitesh Srivastava of the Birla Institute of Technology & Science, of Pilani, India. Dilip Mathew Thomas of the Indian Institute of Science, advised by Phaneendra Yalavarthy and Vijay Natarajan, finished third, with Feature Preserving Mesh Simplification. Each winning student received a cash prize.

The results of the judging were eagerly anticipated, but then, given the many and varied enticements of the day, the same could be said for the entirety of TechVista 2011.