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A Wealth of Award-Winning Talent
August 25, 2010 7:00 AM PT

They hail from three continents. They represent four separate facilities. They each have a distinct research vision. They all are proud of the work they pursue. And they are particular about the place they choose to perform that work.

They are the five Microsoft Research recipients of the 2010 TR35 award.

The honor, chosen by the editors of Technology Review, recognizes young innovators, all under the age of 35, whose inventions and research are found to be most exciting.

In 2010, five technologists and scientists from Microsoft Research have found this prestigious award bestowed upon them:

Despite their relative youthfulness, each already has demonstrated an uncommon mastery of their preferred domains. One, boyd, is one of the world’s pre-eminent observers of the dynamic world of social media, particularly regarding teenagers. Another, Medhi, has blazed new trails in working to bring the benefits of computing to low-literacy people in her native India and beyond.

Chandra devises novel, compelling ways to deliver Internet connectivity to underserved populations. Sun grapples with challenging artificial-intelligence issues in computer vision. And Saponas, fresh from the campus of the University of Washington and a recent hire by the Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment group at Microsoft Research Redmond, is focused on new interfaces to increase the range of computing options for on-the-go users.

Hear from Microsoft Research’s 2010 TR35 recipients in their own words:

danah boyd

danah boyd
  • My research vision: “I’m trying to understand how technology inflects everyday practice. We keep putting technology into people’s lives. How do they use it for sociable purposes? The reason I talk to teenagers is that teenagers don’t come to technology with presuppositions. They are trying to make sense of technology at the same time they’re trying to make sense of social worlds more generally. You can see the interplay much more cleanly that way.

    “Not only do I want to understand socio-technical practices, but I also want to play a role in shaping the future of technology, the future of policy, the future of the market. I believe that the future must take into account all sorts of different social experiences and social perspectives.”
  • My proudest research moment: “For me, it’s more in aggregate. Over time, I’ve been able to build and share information in ways that become useful to people. There’s not a single moment that makes me proud; it’s more these little bits where you can see people go, “Oh!” I live for the light-bulb moments, and that light bulb happens on different scales. It can happen when I’m talking to an individual parent who finally ‘gets’ their child. It can happen when a policymaker groks why their policy doesn’t make sense. It can happen when an executive gets why it is that people are using X, Y, Z.

    “As a researcher, I seek to make sense of something and then communicate that knowledge with the world. When I succeed at communicating something, I feel really good.”
  • Why I work for Microsoft Research: “I’ve known about Microsoft Research since I was in college as the place for computer science, this awe-inspiring place. I’ve maintained that awe for years.

    “My respect for Microsoft Research is at all levels. Rick Rashid [Microsoft Research senior vice president] just gets the importance of pure research in understanding the future, at both a technological level and a social level. This is an amazing place to do social science and to pursue the kinds of research I do from a highly interdisciplinary perspective. Microsoft Research has both freedom and opportunities for impact. I can do what I think is really important, and I have the ability to bring it back and make a difference. Microsoft Research does a phenomenal job of bringing those two worlds together.”

Ranveer Chandra

Ranveer Chandra
  • My research vision: “My passion is to develop technologies for low-cost Internet connectivity to everyone, including to more than 70 percent of the world’s population that is still not connected to the Internet. This lack of information infrastructure, mainly in rural and low-income areas, hinders the socioeconomic development of these regions.

    “Better Internet connectivity will help create new jobs, improve access to educational resources, and modernize health-care facilities, among several other benefits. My research goal is to bridge this digital divide by developing technologies to enable low-cost Internet connectivity.”
  • My proudest research moment: “I am most proud of the design and demonstration of a system that can achieve high throughput over long distances on TV ‘white spaces.’ This system, which we call WhiteFi, can provide high throughput without interfering with existing primary users of the TV spectrum—televisions and wireless microphones. We have also deployed a WhiteFi network on the Microsoft campus, and this deployment has attracted visits from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as well as spectrum regulators from India, China, Brazil, and Singapore. Julius Genachowski, FCC chairman, saw our campus deployment on Aug. 15.”
  • Why I work for Microsoft Research: “What I like most about Microsoft Research is the presence of smart people, including world experts in several fields. Even for the white-space project, we needed to consult with experts in speech technology, antenna design, radio-frequency design, and databases. I was able to find all the experts in-house.

    Furthermore, management is very supportive and encourages us to take risks. In the context of the white-spaces project, we were encouraged to realize our vision of a white-space deployment despite having no precedence of such a network anywhere in the world.”

Indrani Medhi

Indrani Medhi
  • My research vision: “To have meaningful impact among low-literate communities worldwide through our research work. While computing is playing an increasingly important role in our everyday lives, there are still a very large number of people to whom the benefits of computing remain out of reach. Forty-one percent of the population in the least-developed countries and more than 2 billion people in the world are non-literate.

    “Having grown up in India, I have personally seen a large number of functionally non-literate people, both in my personal life and even at the workplace. This, and working in the information-and-communication-technologies-and-development space at Microsoft Research started me thinking about ways in which to extend computing to the sections of populations that have been excluded. The goal of our Text-Free UI research project is to make assistance-free PC interaction possible for first-time, non-literate people.”
  • My proudest research moment: “I’d rather mention one of the most inspiring moments I’ve experienced through our research work. I have met a number of low-income, low-literate domestic helpers in India who had not been allowed to touch PCs at their employers’ houses, even for the purposes of cleaning, probably because of class- and caste-based discrimination.

    “In our usability tests, when the same domestic helpers were able to handle the PC themselves, there was this sense of pride and accomplishment they experienced. This was a very inspiring moment for me, to see how technology could empower an individual and elevate one’s self-worth in such unforeseen ways.”
  • Why I work for Microsoft Research: “Microsoft Research gives me the intellectual freedom to work on problems I care about the most. That’s something I really love about my job. I also love that I have this amazing bunch of colleagues who are smart, fun, passionate about what they do, and who inspire me on a day-to-day basis.

    The mentorship available from research managers and senior researchers is of premier quality. The overall environment in the lab is intellectually very stimulating. At Microsoft Research, I have had many enriching life experiences that have helped in so many ways—not just in my professional development, but also in my personal development.”

Scott Saponas

Scott Saponas
  • My research vision: “To create new interfaces that continue to push the limits of where, when, and how people interact with computing. The state of the art in mobile situations is a touch-screen-based mobile phone, possibly with speech recognition over a Bluetooth headset. Unfortunately, this is not sufficient in many scenarios, such as when a person is running or biking.

    “My goal is to create new forms of computer input and output that can work in these and other situations where today's computer-interface technology can only provide people limited support.”
  • My proudest research moment: “My proudest achievement is the work we have done so far on a wireless, muscle-computer-interface armband. Our work has demonstrated that we can infer finger gestures from muscle sensing at the surface of the skin on a person's upper forearm. This work is an important building block toward computing being always-available and supporting people in their occupations and everyday lives.”
  • Why I work for Microsoft Research: “This is a place where I can pursue my research vision in collaboration with world experts in many areas of computer science. The nature of my research requires me to lean on the expertise of researchers outside of my core area, and Microsoft Research is uniquely populated with the most talented people in research areas both near and far.

    “At Microsoft Research, I also have the opportunity to transfer my research into many Microsoft products, which span every aspect of computing.”

Jian Sun

Jian Sun
  • My research vision: “I am a researcher in computer vision—seeing and understanding the image, a very challenging artificial-intelligence problem. The focus of my research is not to attack this problem in the conventional way, but by combining human intelligence and artificial intelligence to solve many difficult computer-vision problems, such as image segmentation, recognition, and search—and eventually to help computers understand images better.

    “My central research topic is simultaneously designing new vision algorithms and a best-fitting user interface to create a loop: challenging vision tasks are completed by a small amount of user inputs, and the results provide good training data for improving the algorithms. This is taken to more users and generates more training data, which, in turn, accelerates computer-vision progress. I call this Interactive Computer Vision.”
  • My proudest research moment: “My three favorite Interactive Computer Vision projects:”
    • Interactive image segmentation and matting: “In the past five years, we have developed a bunch of interactive image-segmentation and -matting techniques for effortlessly extracting objects from an image. Instead of marking individual pixels, the user can simply separate the object by roughly painting a few strokes. These techniques have been widely deployed and re-implemented in industrial and academic fields.”
    • Face recognition and interactive tagging: “We developed a high-accuracy face-recognition algorithm and interactive face-tagging techniques. The resulting Microsoft FaceLibrary has been successfully transferred into many Microsoft products, including Xbox Kinect, Windows Live Photo Gallery (Wave 4), and Bing image search.”
    • Interactive image-search-result re-ranking: “We developed a visual-similarity-based image-search-result re-ranking and refining technology, which shipped as the Show Similar Images feature in the Bing image-search engine. It enables a user to interactively re-search keyword-based search results by visual similarity. It is the first web-scale, content-based image-retrieval system.”
  • Why I work for Microsoft Research: “Three reasons: Microsoft Research helps me to rapidly grow from a junior student to a researcher who can realize his ideas. I get to work with a lot of talented, nice people. And Microsoft Research has long-term patience for the creation of high-impact technologies.”