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From quantum computing to show dogs, Faculty Summit informed and inspired

July 28, 2014 | By Microsoft blog editor

Watch Faculty Summit 2014 now on demand

The fifteenth annual Microsoft Faculty Summit is over, but you can still experience much of it on demand. I was really inspired and energized by the keynotes, session topics, and discussions—especially meeting, talking to, and hearing from researchers in other areas who I don’t normally see at conferences. The Faculty Summit brought together an amazing mix of 500 academics and Microsoft researchers from a wide range of scientific disciplines—from quantum computing to social science.

Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Technology and Research group, gave the opening keynote speech. Harry’s enthusiasm and excitement was palpable as he discussed the future of Microsoft Research. He was inspired by the number of Microsoft and academia collaborations, reminding us how ideas and technologies flow from our industry-academic collaborations.

There were many great moments, but I was especially delighted by Project Adam, which did a great job of classifying dogs! The goal of Project Adam is a software system that recognizes any object from an image. Researchers have been working on this really hard problem in deep learning for a long time. Johnson Apacible, principal member of tech staff, Microsoft Research, announced Adam has achieved some pretty astonishing results. It is twice as accurate as and 50 times faster than the prior state of the art in literature. The Microsoft team has trained Adam by using DNA models with more than 40 billion connections—and it’s still scaling linearly.

The team took a whimsical approach to the demonstration, asking Adam to “look” at a series of dogs and identify each individual canine’s breed. Adam pulled an almost perfect score, but was stumped by the final dog, an Australian Cobberdog, which turned out to be a mix of five breeds. Adam guessed terrier, one of the dog’s lineages. Regardless, Adam was more knowledgeable about the dog breeds than many of us in the audience.

After the keynote, we got into Hot Topics, starting with Doug Burger, who talked about the second age of computing. Doug defined this period as the ending of Moore’s law and explained how this age offers great opportunities for specialization through more efficient and faster computation. Next, Krysta Svore provided a glimpse into quantum simulation and some exciting results that demonstrate the potential for enormous gains in efficiency. Desney Tan then shared his thoughts about individualized healthcare and monitoring and how we (researchers and computer scientists) need to build systems that facilitate real discovery and new approaches by learning from the massive amounts of data that we can capture with billions of body sensors.

Mary Gray wrapped up Hot Topics by sharing that we are in a revolutionary moment in social science—and in her field of anthropology in particular. “I think we’re at the moment where we can think about crowds and the specificity of individual lives in them, and at the same time, use the computational power of computer science to explore patterns that we’ve never thought about before,” Mary said.

The Keynote and Hot Topics sessions set a high bar for the rest of the summit. Throughout the two days of the summit, a wide variety of topics engaged and delighted us, with more than 20 sessions that examined devices, cloud computing, crowd sourcing, software engineering, quantum computing, how we feel while we program, and much more. I was intrigued by a study shared by Prof. Keith N. Hampton: it indicates that computing is extending our social relationships. Instead of dropping your high school friends when you move away, they remain in your life forever. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can’t decide.

While I watched in person, I was delighted that we were able to share the day one keynotes, Hot Topics session, and engaging interview sessions with the online audience, via a live stream.

You can watch even more of the Faculty Summit now. We have posted more of the keynotes, sessions, interviews, and demos. Visit the Online Event page to view what you missed, or re-watch your favorite sessions.

Kathryn S. McKinley, Faculty Summit Co-Chair, Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2014

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