Microsoft Research https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research Fri, 21 Jul 2017 02:08:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Faculty Summit 2017 focuses on technical breakthroughs and societal influences https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/faculty-summit-2017-technical-breakthroughs-societal-influences/ Sun, 16 Jul 2017 15:00:46 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=400487 By Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow and Managing Director, Microsoft We’re at an inflection point for AI technologies. Rising capabilities and possibilities have been catalyzed by jumps in the availability of data and computational power. Increasing competencies in such areas as face recognition, speech recognition, translation among languages, and semi-autonomous vehicles have been met with enthusiasm […]

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Eric Horvitz at Faculty Summit 2017

Photo credit: Doug Ogle, Filmateria Digital

By Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow and Managing Director, Microsoft

We’re at an inflection point for AI technologies. Rising capabilities and possibilities have been catalyzed by jumps in the availability of data and computational power. Increasing competencies in such areas as face recognition, speech recognition, translation among languages, and semi-autonomous vehicles have been met with enthusiasm by people and organizations. However, there have also been rising discussions about the uses of the systems, especially in high-stakes areas like transportation and criminal justice, and on the broader influences of AI advances on people and society.

The Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2017The Edge of AI, kicked off today. We are hosting talks, panel discussions, and demos on recent developments. The program committee for the summit did a fabulous job bringing together an excellent and diverse group of folks. Participants include many long-term colleagues, as well as researchers just entering the field.

Presentations and discussions will cover a rich spectrum of topics that include advances in deep learning, reinforcement learning, and probabilistic graphical models—and approaches to intelligence that draw jointly on these and other methodologies. We’ll also be examining the state-of-the-art and future states of human-AI collaboration, machine reading, and models of integrative intelligence that jointly leverage speech recognition, conversational dialog, vision, and planning. Beyond technical methods, we’ll be discussing the ethical, legal, and societal issues around the influences of AI, including the importance of developing fair and accountable machine learning and classification. We’ll also explore directions where AI promises to have deep and beneficial impact, such as applications in agriculture, sustainability, accessibility, and biomedicine.

This morning, I kicked off the Faculty Summit with a talk on the challenges and opportunities with fielding AI advances in the open world. Before diving into my main presentation, I paused to describe our newly launched organization named Microsoft Research AI (MSR AI). We publicly announced MSR AI at an event in London last week.

MSR AI brings together about one hundred folks representing top talent across multiple important subdisciplines of AI. We’re focusing together on several aspirational pursuits, including tackling several difficult and persistent AI challenges. Aspirations for MSR AI include developing a deeper understanding of methods that could support more general artificial intelligence and advancing methods aimed at augmenting human cognition and amplifying human ingenuity. We believe that working together with more coordination on our shared aspirations will be valuable in making progress.

In my talk this morning, I ended with a consideration of issues around responsibility with AI, people, and society. It’s important that computer scientists and other experts, including social scientists, psychologists, ethicists, lawyers, and economists, collaborate closely to understand, track, and provide guidance on the best paths forward for AI technologies. We need to seize the opportunity to harness these evolving technologies to enhance the quality of life and to empower people and organizations in new ways across the world. We have to be mindful about rough edges and adverse outcomes as we go, and be on alert for inadvertent effects of AI systems—even from those systems and methods we might be most optimistic about.

Beyond our research on these issues, Microsoft recently announced the formation of the Aether advisory panel. Aether is an acronym for AI and ethics in engineering and research. The Aether panel includes representatives from every division of the company and works to advise Satya Nadella and the senior leadership team of the company. The goal of the panel is to work across the company on best practices around research, engineering, and fielding of AI technologies, and to work to spot issues and potential abuses of AI before they start.

A number of efforts around the world are focused on leveraging AI advances to address important social and societal challenges. Many of our researchers have been deeply motivated by these possibilities and have developed some magical and promising approaches in numerous realms. We’ve recently rolled out several efforts. Last week, we made Seeing AI freely available. The application provides the sight-impaired with AI eyes that can help them to interpret scenes, recognize people and their emotions, and read signs, documents—and menus. We’ve also just announced the AI for Earth program, aiming the power of AI on feeding people, fighting climate change and maintaining biodiversity. In the realm of healthcare, we will be showcasing Project InnerEye, which brings an assistive tool to oncologists for fighting cancer.

A primary take-away from our Faculty Summit event: We’re continuing to build upon our 25 years of research and innovation in this area. We are working hard to address foundational AI problems, rapidly pursuing the application of innovations in real-world systems and services that can empower people in new ways, and investing in developing a deeper understanding of the influences of AI on people and society.

We hope you are able to join us for our live stream (www.microsoftfacultysummit.com) today and tomorrow.

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Path Guide: A New Approach to Indoor Navigation https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/path-guide-new-approach-indoor-navigation/ Fri, 14 Jul 2017 17:09:04 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=399860 By Yuanchao Shu, Associate Researcher, and Börje Karlsson, Sr. Research Dev Lead, Microsoft Research Mobile outdoor GPS navigation apps have proven to be lifesavers to countless people. With a smartphone in hand, it is easy to find your way to a destination, even in an unfamiliar city. However, it is still easy to get lost […]

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Montreal’s Underground City. Photo by Tourisme Montréal.

By Yuanchao Shu, Associate Researcher, and Börje Karlsson, Sr. Research Dev Lead, Microsoft Research

Mobile outdoor GPS navigation apps have proven to be lifesavers to countless people. With a smartphone in hand, it is easy to find your way to a destination, even in an unfamiliar city. However, it is still easy to get lost indoors, where GPS satellite signals are not accurately traceable for navigation applications.

How often have you had a hard time locating that new café inside in a bustling shopping center where you were supposed to meet your friends? How often have you wandered the hallways of some office building trying desperately to find that meeting room you were supposed to be in? How convenient would it be to have an app, similar to the ones used outdoors, that works indoors? We at Microsoft Research Asia’s Cloud & Mobile Research group recently launched Path Guide, a research-based application that provides low-cost, plug-and-play indoor navigation services. Users can easily find the correct path to their destinations by simply following traces created by a “leader,” or user who has been to the location before.

Microsoft Path Guide app for Android devices.

Indoor Navigation Anywhere: Is It Beyond Reach?

Let’s start by examining why GPS cannot be relied upon for indoor navigation. The first step in GPS navigation is positioning. Essentially, the receiver chip of the GPS system running on a handheld device picks up positioning signals from satellites and calculates the coordinates of the receiving device. Signals from a GPS satellite have poor penetration and are often blocked by building walls. Moreover, even with accurate positioning results, map information that most navigation applications depend on is not widely available for indoor scenarios. Real-time GPS-based indoor navigation is therefore out of the question.

So, what are the current applicable ideas for indoor navigation? A relatively well-known navigation approach is based on Bluetooth beacon positioning. Taking Apple’s iBeacon as an example, a smartphone app can roughly work out the device’s location on a map via signals from one or more iBeacons. Based on this information, the app then can calculate a route and navigate the user to her destination. However, this solution only works in buildings where iBeacons exist and the limited Bluetooth transmission range results in high costs for deployment and maintenance in large-sized indoor environments (shopping malls and office buildings, for instance).

Another popular indoor navigation approach is built upon Wi-Fi-based positioning. Wi-Fi signals are more commonly found in indoor environments than Bluetooth beacons. Similar to the Bluetooth method, this type of solution determines the approximate position of mobile devices through radio frequency (RF) signal characteristics and triangulation processes. Different positioning systems rely on signal strength, signal phase, transmission time, RF angle of arrival, channel state information, etc., but in general, they all leverage the differences and correlations between various Wi-Fi signals to determine  positioning.

These systems can also use signal propagation models and learning algorithms to build a fingerprint map of indoor areas, and then train the system with, let’s say, radio signal strength information for positioning. However, due to the complexity of indoor environments, Wi-Fi signals are easily affected by interference and can fluctuate widely. Keeping Wi-Fi signal data up to date can lead to high maintenance costs. Additionally, positioning accuracy is limited by other factors such as the deployment density of Wi-Fi routers, how often the indoor environment changes, and the effort required to train and calibrate the system.

There are also solutions based on dedicated equipment within various indoor locations, which require the deployment of a certain number of special-purpose sensing devices, including cameras, visible light communication systems, RFID, Ultra-Wideband (UWB), infrared, ultrasound, or even laser-based instruments gears.  These solutions can greatly improve system accuracy, but widespread deployments are heavily constrained by high hardware and labor costs.

Finally,  indoor navigation generally relies on indoor maps, but map collection, data representation and data manipulation in large-sized indoor spaces are outstanding and costly issues, placing a huge question mark over the universal application of indoor navigation technologies. And for smaller buildings, owners may not have the means to collect and expose the necessary data.

So, how can we achieve low-cost, plug-and-play, scalable indoor navigation?

Path Guide: A Flexible Solution to Indoor Navigation

Taking the above knowledge into account, we turned our eyes to the smartphones that everyone uses.  Could we rely only on what’s already available there?

After generations of upgrades, mobile phones today have an increasing variety of sensors, such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, electronic compasses, barometers, etc. Based on our previous research on making the most of such smartphone sensors and in using sensor data for indoor navigation, we decided to switch approaches. Instead of doing positioning first, why not focus only on navigation, as that’s our goal? Experiments have determined that the indoor geomagnetic field is disturbed by building structures, and that it is relatively stable inside buildings. This gave us the idea of creating an indoor navigation system based on the magnetic sensor data gathered from different locations, while leveraging the other phone sensors to support real time navigation instructions.

Combining the teams’ knowledge and expertise in mobile computing, pervasive computing, and intelligent sensing, we developed Path Guide. The Path Guide Android-based mobile app is user-friendly and can be installed directly onto a user’s smartphone, without the need for indoor maps or for building to have any special pre-installed hardware (including Wi-Fi routers).

To make the system work for anyone, we developed a peer-to-peer leader/follower model. Once a user goes to an indoor location using the app to record sensor data along a path, any other user can follow that path and get there. As more users collect data, different paths can be combined that make the system even more useful. This approach has two main benefits: First, the system is completely plug-and-play. Any two users in any building can use indoor navigation from scratch. Second, by combining data from multiple users, we can amplify the benefits of every single collected path, providing more navigation opportunities to more people with improved user experience.
The Path Guide app can be used in many scenarios. For example, if you are going to a large office building for the first time to attend a client meeting, a colleague who knows where the meeting room is can act as a “guide leader” and, using Path Guide, record a trace from the entrance of the building to the meeting room.

After arriving at the meeting room, the “leader” clicks the “finish recording” button to upload the path data trace to Path Guide’s backend in the cloud. Anyone who subsequently enters the building for the meeting and is using Path Guide can then follow the shared trace step-by-step to easily locate the correct room.

In more open areas, like shopping malls, any person or even shop owners can act as “guide leader” and share path traces from multiple locations (e.g., different entrances) to get to a certain destination, such as a relatively hidden restaurant or a clothing store.

Users of Path Guide can also record a trace and follow it backwards to its starting point. For instance, in an unfamiliar garage, you can record a trace from your parking spot to the elevator, and later follow it in reverse to find your car.

Another Path Guide feature is its support of annotations during trace recording. Text, audio, and photos can be added along a path, providing more information and interactivity.

Moreover, all traces that are uploaded to the cloud can be viewed from a web browser and shared with others using a unique trace ID. This way, shop owners can post wayfinding instructions on their own websites, and meeting coordinators can attach a route to an email meeting request.

Path Guide is a research project and admittedly still has rough edges. We hope you’ll download the app. Any feedback on improvements to the app UI, its usability, or in dealing with problematic situations are greatly welcome by the research team. You can either search for Path Guide in Google Play or download it directly from the project’s official website.

Related

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Transportation Data Science at Microsoft https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/transportation-data-science-microsoft/ Thu, 13 Jul 2017 20:00:39 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=399668 By Vani Mandava, Director, Data Science Outreach, Microsoft Research The National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported Big Data Innovation Hubs launched a National Transportation Data Challenge with a kickoff event in Seattle in May 2017. Microsoft Outreach, through its partnership with the Big Data Hubs organized an Azure workshop and participated in a panel discussion on ‘How […]

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West Hub Steering Committee Member Professor Kristin Tufte moderates a panel at the launch of the National Transportation Data Challenge in Seattle, May 2017.

By Vani Mandava, Director, Data Science Outreach, Microsoft Research

The National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported Big Data Innovation Hubs launched a National Transportation Data Challenge with a kickoff event in Seattle in May 2017. Microsoft Outreach, through its partnership with the Big Data Hubs organized an Azure workshop and participated in a panel discussion on ‘How Cloud Computing Can Enable Transportation Data Science.’ The kickoff was the first in a series of events that are being organized across the US to launch this challenge. It is an activity that spans all four hubs, and is expected to reach all 50 states. Several teams across Microsoft contributed ideas on recent or ongoing work on transportation data science. Below is a summary of the all the contributions that were part of the event.

  • Microsoft’s engagement with the Challenge builds upon a foundation of prior work in public safety and metro data science. The Challenge launch event highlighted a collaboration between Microsoft’s Civic Technology Engagement (CTE) group within the Corporate, External and Legal Affairs (CELA) team and DataKind, Vision Zero, the New York City Department of Transportation, Seattle Department of Transportation, and the City of New Orleans’ Office of Performance and Accountability. The project enabled an ecosystem that helped cities assign limited resources to prioritized traffic safety issues.  Adam Hecktman and Kevin Wei from the CELA CTE team also built a cool interactive Power BI dashboard that demonstrates and visualizes 300M+ bike rides in the city of Chicago.
  • Microsoft Research’s Video Analytics Towards Vision Zero was represented on the panel by Franz Loewenherz, City of Bellevue, and was mentioned by both Daniel Morgan (Chief Data Officer, USDOT), and former governor, Chris Gregoire. On June 1st, Bellevue officially launched the Video Analytics Towards Vision Zero crowdsourcing initiative. In a collaboration with organizations across North America, Bellevue, the University of Washington and Microsoft are asking for the public’s help analyzing traffic camera footage to teach computers how to identify and track people using wheelchairs, bikes, and other modes of transportation as they navigate intersections. The more people who go online, the better we can “teach” computers to scan traffic videos and recognize near-collision events (see City of Bellevue Media Release). Microsoft Research scientists leading this effort are Victor Bahl and Ganesh Ananthnarayanan.
  • Wee Hyong Tok, Principal Data Science Manager in the Cloud AI Platform group built an Azure Machine Learning based predictive model for incident severity reporting based on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. The model has an accuracy of 68% and can be used to provide a baseline model for participants. Additionally, Patrick Baumgartner and the PowerBI team built a compelling interactive PowerBI visualization based on the dataset not only demonstrate analyses, various correlations but also dive deeper into visualizing point of impact and seating position.
  • Transportation Data Science efforts extend beyond the United States. Andrew Bradley, Principal Solution Specialist on the Microsoft UK Enterprise and Partner Group (EPG), shared how the UK team is engaged with the Department of Transport, UK, and are actively encouraging innovation in the region by supporting events, hackathons and challenges.
  • Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform recognizes the digital transformation that is reshaping the automotive industry (100% of new cars by 2030 are projected to be connected) and is investing in building extensible, global, and scalable automotive solutions in partnership with organizations such as Nissan, Volvo, and BMW.

We look forward to engaging with the transportation data science community as the National Transportation Data Challenge takes shape over the coming months.

Learn more

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Find out how humans and machines are collaborating at the 2017 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/humans-machines-collaborating-2017-microsoft-research-faculty-summit/ Thu, 13 Jul 2017 16:00:26 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=399476 By Christopher Bishop, Program Co-Chair of Faculty Summit, Technical Fellow & Laboratory Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge The development of machine intelligence that amplifies human capabilities and experiences is at the heart of our AI research at Microsoft, which is why I’m delighted by the tremendous lineup of keynotes and panels focused on human-machine collaboration at […]

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2017 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit - The Edge of AI

By Christopher Bishop, Program Co-Chair of Faculty Summit, Technical Fellow & Laboratory Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge

The development of machine intelligence that amplifies human capabilities and experiences is at the heart of our AI research at Microsoft, which is why I’m delighted by the tremendous lineup of keynotes and panels focused on human-machine collaboration at the 2017 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit – The Edge of AI, July 17-18.

The shift toward building machines that are smart enough to collaborate with people as capable partners and assistants is a recent development in the history of AI, one that’s being pushed by the proliferation of computing devices in every imaginable facet of life. With computers everywhere, it’s important that they’re clever enough to work with us in groups as well as individually, Barbara J. Grosz from Harvard University will explain in her talk on July 17 at 9:10am.

Other human-machine collaboration talks and sessions will highlight how researchers are pushing the boundaries of AI to augment the capabilities of people with sensory disabilities, enabling new and empowering experiences. The AI for Earth initiative illustrates how the embrace of AI can enhance human efforts to mitigate and adapt to environmental and social challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and food and water scarcity.

To help set the framework for the future of human-computer collaboration, a very thoughtful panel of distinguished AI experts will discuss the development and deployment of future AI systems that partner with people on complex and open-ended tasks. Microsoft’s Ece Kamar will chair the panel, which includes Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz along with Subbarao Kambhampati of Arizona State University and Milind Tambe of the University of Southern California. The panel starts at 2:00pm on July 18.

For those of you unable to attend the 2017 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in person, I encourage you to watch the livestream of keynotes, speakers and Research in Focus interview segments. I’m particularly excited about a July 18 livestreamed talk by Amy Greenwald of Brown University on efforts to build AI agents that make effective decisions in multiagent – part human, part artificial – environments. Her research is currently being applied to renewable energy markets and wireless spectrum auctions.

Visit www.microsoftfacultysummit.com for more information and the full virtual event agenda.

I look forward to seeing you at the event in-person or virtually as we all get together to discuss the collaboration of humans and machines at the Edge of AI.

Related:

Watch the livestream of the 2017 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit—The Edge of AI

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What problems will we solve with a quantum computer? https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/problems-will-solve-quantum-computer/ Wed, 05 Jul 2017 15:55:27 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=395276 New paper suggests quantum computers will address problems that could have substantial scientific and economic impact With rapid recent advances in quantum technology, we have drawn ever closer to the threshold of quantum devices whose computational powers can exceed those of classical supercomputers. But when a useful, scalable general-purpose quantum computer arrives, what problems will […]

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New paper suggests quantum computers will address problems that could have substantial scientific and economic impact

The MoFe protein, left, and the FeMoco, right, would be able to be analyzed by quantum computing to help reveal the complex chemical system behind nitrogen fixation by the enzyme nitorgense.

With rapid recent advances in quantum technology, we have drawn ever closer to the threshold of quantum devices whose computational powers can exceed those of classical supercomputers.

But when a useful, scalable general-purpose quantum computer arrives, what problems will it solve?

Much work has already been done towards identifying areas where quantum computing provides a clear improvement over traditional classical approaches. Many suspect that quantum computers will one day revolutionize chemistry and materials science; the likely ability of quantum computers to predict specific properties of molecules and materials fits this outcome nicely.

However, a number of important questions remain. Not the least of these is the question of how exactly to use a quantum computer to solve an important problem in chemistry. The inability to point to a clear use case complete with resource and cost estimates is a major drawback. After all, even an exponential speedup may not lead to a useful algorithm if a typical, practical application requires an amount of time and memory that is beyond the reach of even a quantum computer.

Our paper published earlier this week at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms the feasibility of such a practical application, showing that a quantum computer can be employed to reveal reaction mechanisms in complex chemical systems, using the open problem of biological nitrogen fixation in nitrogenase as an example.

Today, we spend approximately 3 percent of the world’s total energy output on making fertilizer. This relies on a process developed in the early 1900s that is extremely energy intensive—the reaction gas required is taken from natural gas, which is in turn required in very large amounts. However, we know that a tiny anaerobic bacteria in the roots of plants performs this same process every day at very low energy cost using a specific molecule—nitrogenase.

This molecule is beyond the abilities of our largest supercomputers to analyze, but would be within the reach of a moderate scale quantum computer. Efficiently capturing carbon (to combat global warming) is in the same class of problem. The search for high-temperature superconductors is another example.

This paper shows that these kinds of necessary computations can be performed in reasonable time on realistic quantum computers—demonstrating that quantum computers will one day tackle important problems in chemistry without requiring exorbitant resources. This paper also gives us further confidence that quantum simulation will be able to provide answers to problems with a tremendous potential for scientific and economic impact.

Editor’s Note: The paper’s authors contributed to this post: Markus Reiher, Nathan Wiebe, Krysta Svore, Dave Wecker and Matthias Troyer.

Related:

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Watch the livestream of the 2017 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit—The Edge of AI https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/livestream-2017-microsoft-research-faculty-summit-edge-ai/ Wed, 05 Jul 2017 13:00:32 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=394877 By Evelyne Viegas, Program Co-Chair of Faculty Summit and Director, Microsoft We are looking forward to another informative Microsoft Research Faculty Summit (July 17-18, 2017) where this year’s theme is The Edge of AI. The event will consist of keynotes, sessions, panels, and showcased technologies. The summit brings together thought leaders and researchers from a broad range […]

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2017 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit

By Evelyne Viegas, Program Co-Chair of Faculty Summit and Director, Microsoft

We are looking forward to another informative Microsoft Research Faculty Summit (July 17-18, 2017) where this year’s theme is The Edge of AI. The event will consist of keynotes, sessions, panels, and showcased technologies. The summit brings together thought leaders and researchers from a broad range of disciplines including computer science, social sciences, human design and interactions, and policy. Together we will highlight some of the key challenges posed by artificial intelligence, and will identify the next generation of approaches, techniques, and tools that will be needed to develop AI to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

Microsoft AI researchers are striving to create intelligent machines that complement human reasoning, and amplify human ingenuity with intelligent technology. At the core, is the ability to harness the explosion of digital data and computational power with advanced algorithms that extend the ability for machines to learn, reason, sense and understand—enabling collaborative and natural interactions between machines and humans.

If you aren’t registered to attend in person, you still have an opportunity to watch our keynotes, speakers and, back by popular demand, our special Research in Focus interview segments streamed live beginning July 17, 2017 at 8:30 AM Pacific Time (UTC-7).

Here are just a few highlights of what will be streamed:

  • Opening: AI in the Open World with Eric Horvitz, Microsoft, Technical Fellow and Managing Director
  • Keynote: Smart Enough to Work With Us? Foundations and Challenges for Teamwork-Enabled AI Systems, with Barbara Grosz, Harvard University
  • Research in Focus: Deep Learning Research and the Future of AI, with Yoshua Bengio, University of Montréal
  • Research in Focus: Conversational Agents, with Alan Ritter, Ohio State University, Lucy Vanderwende, Microsoft, Senior Researcher and Jason Williams, Microsoft, Principal Researcher
  • Fireside Chat with Harry Shum, Microsoft, Executive Vice President, and Christopher Bishop, Microsoft, Technical Fellow and Managing Director

Visit www.microsoftfacultysummit.com for more information and the full virtual event agenda!

We are looking forward to your attendance whether you are registered to attend in-person or virtually.

Learn more

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Dissertation Grant Winners Announced https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/dissertation-grant-program-winners/ Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:00:45 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=393542 Support for under-represented Ph.D. students in computer sciences By Lynn Parker, Writer, Microsoft The Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant program offers financial support to selected doctoral students from groups that are under-represented in the field of computing in the form of grants to complete their dissertations. The grants were announced today, so I sat down with […]

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Support for under-represented Ph.D. students in computer sciences

Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant program

By Lynn Parker, Writer, Microsoft

The Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant program offers financial support to selected doctoral students from groups that are under-represented in the field of computing in the form of grants to complete their dissertations. The grants were announced today, so I sat down with Dr. Meredith (Merrie) Ringel Morris, chair of the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant program and a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, to find out more about the recipients.

Lynn: What is the goal of the Dissertation Grant program?

Merrie: Microsoft Research is interested in supporting and increasing the diversity of computer science talent from under-represented groups, such as people of color, women, and people with disabilities. We truly believe that diversity fuels innovation. Often, these same groups have fewer resources for conducting their Ph.D. research. So we created the Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant to support students from diverse backgrounds with research funding, up to USD$20,000 each, as well as mentorship through a special career workshop we’ll be holding this fall.

Lynn: Who was eligible to apply?

Merrie: This grant program targets students in their fourth year or beyond of doctoral studies, and was open to students currently under-represented in computing, including women, people with disabilities, and people who are African-American, Latino, American Indian, or Pacific Islanders. Microsoft has a commitment to grow the percentage of such students obtaining computing degrees, to ultimately diversify the high-tech workforce.

Lynn: Who are the recipients?

Merrie: We received 200 applications, and chose an amazing group of twelve to receive this inaugural year’s awards. The recipients’ proposed dissertation research reflects a wide variety of computing topics, including AI, robotics, hardware, cryptography, information visualization, systems, networking, human-computer interaction, and technology for emerging markets. The awardees are:

Ebuka Arinze, Johns Hopkins University, “Nanoengineering for Tunable Energy-Efficient Optoelectronics”

Juan Camilo Gamboa Higuera, McGill University, “Transfer of Robot Motor Behaviors from Low-Fidelity Domains”

Esha Ghosh, Brown University, “Efficient, Privacy-Preserving, Secure Cloud Computation and Storage”

Kavita Krishnaswamy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, “Smart Algorithms via Knowledge Management of Safe Physical Human-Robotic Care”

Himabindu Lakkaraju, Stanford University, “Interpretable Machine Learning for Human Decision Making”

Paula Mate, Indiana University, Bloomington, “Examining the Implementation of the Health Information System in Mozambique: Understanding the Experiences of Health Care Workers with ICTs”

Martez Edward Mott, University of Washington, “Accessible Touch Input for People with Motor Impairments”

Shadi A. Noghabi, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Building Large-scale Production Systems for Latency-sensitive Applications”

John R. Porter, University of Washington, “Understanding and Improving Real-World Video Game Accessibility”

Andrew S. Stamps, Mississippi State University, ”Applications of Heterodox Rendering Methods to Visualization”

Vasuki Narasimha Swamy, University of California, Berkeley, “Real-time Ultra-reliable Wireless Communication”

César Torres, University of California, Berkeley, “Hybrid Aesthetics – A New Media Framework for the Computational Design of Creative Materials, Tools, and Practices within Digital Fabrication”

Lynn: How did you select the grant recipients?

Merrie: The most important criterion was scientific excellence of the research itself. Each applicant had to submit a description of their dissertation research, and how they would spend the grant. These proposals were reviewed by Microsoft Research experts in their respective fields, looking at scientific merit and impact of the research to be supported by the grant.

Lynn: What are some examples of how awardees will be using the grant funds?

Merrie: While all of the winners have interesting stories and research, a few I’d like to highlight are:

John R. Porter is a student at the University of Washington who conducts research on making gaming more accessible to people with motor disabilities, an exciting challenge in the domain of human-computer interaction. John proposed using some of his grant money to attend an academic conference via a telepresence robot, since travel can be challenging as a wheelchair user. He also will use some of the funds to hire an undergraduate assistant to perform physical tasks during user studies.

César Torres is a student at UC Berkeley whose research focuses on new techniques for automated fabrication. His grant will help him purchase materials to explore the use of augmented reality interfaces to supported fabrication processes, including a Microsoft HoloLens and Microsoft Surface Pro 4 devices, as well as various 3D printing supplies and a thermoimaging camera.

Esha Ghosh is a student at Brown University working in cryptography and security. She requested funds to support paying an undergraduate research assistant to further advance her research capabilities, for hardware and Azure cloud storage to run her experiments, and to support travel to diversity conferences for professional development (the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing).

Paula Mate is a student at Indiana University; her dissertation research focuses on technology for the developing world. She applied for grant monies to travel to conferences in order to present her research findings on the development of technology infrastructure for healthcare, such as the Strategic Narratives of Technology in Africa Conference.

Lynn: Tell me about the two-day mentorship event that’s part of this program.

Merrie: In addition to the grant, this award includes an exciting mentorship opportunity. All the grantees received an all-expenses-paid two-day Dissertation Grant Workshop, where they are paired with scientists in their field at Microsoft Research Redmond Lab. During this event, recipients will present a talk describing their dissertation research, and will receive feedback on their work from a panel of Microsoft researchers. They’ll also get to meet one-on-one with Microsoft’s research scientists and product team members whose expertise aligns with their dissertation topic, network with senior leaders from Microsoft’s AI and Research division, and receive advice about post-doctoral career options.

Lynn: This was the first year of the program. Will it become an annual program?

Merrie: Yes. This is the first year of a continuing program. We’re extremely pleased with the participation we received this year, and are looking for even more traction—and applicants—in future years. Microsoft wants to encourage and support members of under-represented groups to pursue careers in computer science, and this program is one way to help build and strengthen the talent base of diverse research scientists and academics.

For a complete list of awardees and their projects, visit our Dissertation Grant Program page.

Related:

Global Diversity and Inclusion at Microsoft

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Microsoft and intelligent markets at ACM EC’17 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/microsoft-intelligent-markets-acm-ec17/ Mon, 26 Jun 2017 13:00:56 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=393257 By David Pennock, Principal Researcher and Assistant Managing Director  The 18th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation (EC’17) starts today at MIT in Cambridge, MA, featuring some of the latest research findings at the interdisciplinary boundary between economics and computer science. Microsoft researchers will have a significant presence at the conference, co-authoring many papers, serving […]

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By David Pennock, Principal Researcher and Assistant Managing Director 

The 18th ACM Conference on Economics and Computation (EC’17) starts today at MIT in Cambridge, MA, featuring some of the latest research findings at the interdisciplinary boundary between economics and computer science. Microsoft researchers will have a significant presence at the conference, co-authoring many papers, serving in leadership roles, giving an invited talk, and receiving an award.

One theme at the conference is the design and analysis of new marketplaces. Online platforms and artificial intelligence technology are enabling better ways to match people with resources—buyers with sellers, students with schools, residents with housing, patients with organs, and more—making existing markets both economically and computationally efficient and vastly improving consumer welfare. Insights from the economics and computation (EC) community are impacting how the government raises money for wireless spectrum, how publishers monetize their sites through advertising, how rural farmers in Uganda sell produce, how life-saving kidney transplants are maximized, and how business school students choose courses, to name just some examples.

Few markets have grown as fast as the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft. Now billion-dollar businesses, they epitomize how technology can improve transportation markets, making riders and drivers happier and streamlining the use of cars, roads, and carbon. Glen Weyl and his co-authors, including Microsoft intern Juan Camilo Castillo, show that surge pricing—charging more during peak times—does more than balance supply and demand; it can forestall a type of market collapse unique to ride-hailing markets. During rush hour, drivers will scatter to meet their riders. When that happens, a new rider requesting a trip will often find that the closest driver is far away; the rider has to wait and the driver has to waste time and fuel just making the pickup. As pickup times increase, the number of unserved customers and cancellation rates spike, both signs of a market collapse. The paper explains how surge pricing keeps the market healthy during high-demand peaks, allowing the platform to charge less during most of the day.

Like transportation, affordable housing plays an outsized role in the pursuit of happiness. Many large cities around the world grapple with how to allocate low-cost housing to residents in need. Peng Shi, the ACM SIGecom Doctoral Dissertation Award winner, and his co-authors wrote “How (Not) to Allocate Affordable Housing,” describing a theoretical model of how to assign subsidized housing to city residents with limited means. There is little previous theoretical guidance on how to design the allocation rules: by lottery or waiting list? If by lottery, should each building run an independent lottery, or should there be a centralized lottery? If by waiting list, should those at the top of the list be allowed to turn down offers? Peng and his co-authors find that allocation mechanisms that seem very different may actually be, to a first-order approximation, equivalent in equilibrium, and they compare the social welfare under various mechanisms. They show that per-building lotteries, currently used in New York City, are less effective than waiting lists.

In a cloud-computing environment, classical scheduling becomes a market-design challenge. When users compete for resources, they will not always truthfully report their arrival times, deadlines, and priorities. Nikhil Devanur and his co-authors address the challenge in their paper, “Truth and Regret in Online Scheduling”. Instead of designing a scheduling algorithm that discourages all forms of misreporting, a nearly impossible task, the authors focus on designing an algorithm that performs close to the best among a family of algorithms, preserving truthfulness even while switching algorithms mid-stream. Check the paper for the devilish(ly clever) details. Nikhil had a hand in five papers published at the conference—a remarkable feat!

My own paper, co-written with Jenn Wortman Vaughan and Microsoft intern Rupert Freeman, covers wagering mechanisms, where people put money behind their predictions about future events like elections. Though widespread, none of the popular wagering mechanisms are truthful, raising questions about their use for crowdsourcing predictions. We present the Double Clinching Auction, the only known wagering mechanism that is both truthful and close to Pareto efficient: in my mind the first truly practical wagering mechanism that is truthful.

Market design requires good models of how people react to incentives. Microsoft postdoc Annie Liang co-wrote a paper about validating models of human behavior. When modelers test their theories, they commonly focus on predictiveness: do the predictions of the theory match the data? But whether a given level of predictive accuracy is good enough depends on whether more predictive theories exist, and how much more predictive they might be. The authors call this second issue completeness. The authors show that machine learning approaches can be used to construct practical benchmarks, illustrating their approach with a fascinating example.

Here’s the full list of 16 papers co-authored by Microsoft scientists, covering other aspects of market design and many other topics. Please browse, download, and read those that strike your interest. I hope to see some of you at the conference for what looks like a fantastic week!

Related links:

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Getting compilers right: a reliable foundation for secure software https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/getting-compilers-right-secure-software/ Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:29:04 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=390980 By Nuno Lopes, Researcher, Microsoft Research Cambridge Think compilers cannot compromise the security of your application? Think twice! Compiler writers work around the clock to continuously deliver better compilers. They are driven by the ever-increasing importance of: Increasing performance (everyone wants their code to run faster!); Reducing code size (so that your app can fit […]

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By Nuno Lopes, Researcher, Microsoft Research Cambridge

Think compilers cannot compromise the security of your application? Think twice!

Compiler writers work around the clock to continuously deliver better compilers. They are driven by the ever-increasing importance of:

  • Increasing performance (everyone wants their code to run faster!);
  • Reducing code size (so that your app can fit on people’s phones);
  • Reducing energy consumption (it’s nice to not drain phone batteries and to save power in energy-hungry datacenters).

Compilers are big: most major compilers consist of several million lines of code. Their development is not stale either: every year, each compiler sees thousands of changes. Their sheer size and complexity, plus the pressure to continuously improve compilers, results in bugs slipping through. These compiler bugs may in turn introduce security vulnerabilities into your program.

Let’s look at a key optimization that removes bounds checks. These are commonly used by memory-safe languages (such as C#, Rust, Swift, etc.) or manually in languages such as C++ to ensure that programs cannot access a memory region that they shouldn’t (to avoid security vulnerabilities). For example, a memory load could look like the following:

while (...) {
   if (!in_bounds(buffer, idx))
      trap();
   x = buffer[idx];
}

Compilers will try very hard to eliminate the bounds check or hoist it out of the loop. Compilers can only do these transformations when they can prove it is safe to do so (e.g., if the check always succeeds). However, a buggy compiler optimization may decide to replace the in_bounds check with true because it mistakenly proved that it wasn’t possible for it to be false, essentially removing the bounds check. This may happen because of a bug in one of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code used to prove that the check wasn’t necessary.

Attacks based on compiler bugs are not yet commonplace, but are not science fiction either. It is possible to take advantage of compiler bugs to, for example, elevate user privileges, bypass authentication mechanisms, or steal information. The existence of these attacks has been known at least since 1974, when the Multics security evaluation report mentioned the possibility of injection of security vulnerabilities by compromised or simply buggy compilers. More recently, researchers managed to compromise a machine running Ubuntu and escalate privileges using a publicly known bug in LLVM.

Ensuring that compilers are correct is therefore critical to both the correctness and security of your software. Compiler bugs are hard to detect, yet a single bug can introduce a security vulnerability in your program, or make it compute the wrong result.

Together with academic and industrial partners, Microsoft researchers are working to ensure that compilers are correct. We are approaching the problem from two angles: automatically verifying that new optimizations are correct, and automatically verifying that the output of compilers is correct.

To verify the correctness of optimizations, we have developed Alive. It consists of a DSL to specify peephole optimizations and a tool to automatically prove that an optimization is correct, or else provide a counterexample showing why the optimization is wrong. You can try Alive online.

Alive verifies that an optimization is correct by checking for each possible input that the code after optimization is a refinement of the code before optimization. In practice, Alive uses the Z3 SMT solver to automatically prove small theorems about the optimization that imply that it is correct.

Microsoft compilers

Alive is now used by compiler developers on several compiler teams, including our own C++ compiler team, and also at other companies that develop LLVM. Alive has found dozens of bugs in LLVM and prevented many more from being introduced in LLVM and in Microsoft’s C++ compiler.

We also are working on verifying that the output of compilers is correct. Instead of verifying upfront that an optimization is valid for all input programs, we verify at compile time that the optimization behaved correctly for the particular input it was given (i.e., your program). This approach is called translation validation. Translation validation works by taking a snapshot of the intermediate representation (IR) before and after each optimization and automatically proving that the latter is a refinement of the former.

Translation validation is a powerful ally for verification: first we can support older code that may be out of reach for current automated verification techniques, and second, it provides an extra safety net.

Our translation validation project is codenamed utcTV (short for translation validation for UTC – Microsoft’s C++ compiler). It is still under development, but already has identified several bugs in development versions of the compiler that were not found using other methods. We will share more details about this project in the future.

A related line of work we are pursuing is on semantics of compiler IRs. How can you verify that something is correct if you don’t know what it really means? That’s why we’ve been studying the semantics of modern compiler IRs, and how to fix the inconsistencies we’ve discovered. More details are available in our upcoming paper that we’ll be presenting at PLDI ’17 in Barcelona later this month.

Clearly, it is important to make sure your compiler is working correctly, both for protecting the entire stack, and for reducing exploitable security vulnerabilities in applications. The tools we are working on are designed to automatically prove the correctness of parts of compilers. Microsoft will continue working with its partners to ensure there are no bugs in compilers that may compromise your application’s correctness and security.

Related

Editor’s Note: Microsoft is a Silver sponsor of this year’s PLDI Conference taking place in Barcelona, June 18-23. PLDI is the premier forum in the field of programming languages and programming systems research.

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Honoring Charles P. Thacker, a visionary computer scientist who changed the world https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/charles-p-thacker-visionary-computer-scientist/ Tue, 20 Jun 2017 19:30:38 +0000 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/?p=392033 By John Roach, Writer, Microsoft Research Charles P. Thacker, a visionary and hands-on electrical engineer who designed the first instances of key computing technologies that define modern life, died June 12 at his home in Palo Alto, California. He was 74. Bringing an idea to life: The personal computer Chuck, as he was known to […]

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By John Roach, Writer, Microsoft Research

Charles P. Thacker, a visionary and hands-on electrical engineer who designed the first instances of key computing technologies that define modern life, died June 12 at his home in Palo Alto, California. He was 74.

Photo credit: Richard Morgenstein

Bringing an idea to life: The personal computer

Chuck, as he was known to friends and colleagues designed the Alto, the first modern personal computer with a mouse and graphical user interface, in the early 1970s at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. He was also a key player in the development of Ethernet, a system for connecting computers into a local area network; the first multiprocessor workstation; and Microsoft’s Tablet PC.

“Chuck has an impressive record of having done the first of quite a few things that we now think of as part of daily life,” said Butler Lampson, a technical fellow at Microsoft’s New England research lab.

Thacker and Lampson collaborated on several projects including the Alto, an early electronic book reader called the Lectrice they developed at Digital Equipment Corporation’s Systems Research Center in the early 1990s and the Tablet PC at Microsoft, which launched in 2001.

“Chuck was a breakthrough thinker and doer,” said Eric Horvitz, technical fellow and director of Microsoft Research Labs. “He was pure genius with a can-do spirit who combined deep knowledge of computing with an understanding of the pace of change at any given moment and of where things were headed.”

Cambridge research lab

After stints as a founding member of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and Digital Equipment Corporation’s Systems Research Center, Thacker was recruited in 1997 to help launch Microsoft’s research lab in Cambridge, UK.

Among Thacker’s first hires was artificial intelligence expert Chris Bishop, who is now the lab director. Bishop remembers Thacker for his rigorous, hands-on approach to engineering.

For example, in the early days of the Cambridge lab, Bishop walked into Thacker’s office to the sight of a Sony VAIO laptop disassembled into hundreds of pieces strewn across three tables. Bishop asked if Thacker was trying to reverse engineer the laptop to better understand how it was built. Thacker replied, “Oh, no, I am going to reassemble it as an electronic book reader.”

Bishop smiled, thinking to himself, “Dream on, Chuck.” Two days later, Thacker showed Bishop the prototype e-reader with the keyboard glued to the back of the screen in a way that allowed the fingers to naturally fall on certain keys to control the device. “This was years before the Kindle and Nook,” Bishop noted.

Tablet PC

Thacker built on the prototype e-reader when he returned to the US and joined the group working on the Microsoft Tablet PC, which launched nearly a decade before tablet computing successfully penetrated the consumer market.

“His ability to latch on to something at a time when it was feasible to do it – not at a time when it was going to be a huge market success, but at a time when it was feasible to do it and lay the groundwork for things that later came to be thought of as absolutely fundamental parts of computing – was extraordinary,” said Lampson.

The computer science community regularly acknowledged Thacker’s contributions to the field. He was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1994, won the Charles Stark Draper Prize in 2004, the IEEE John von Neumann medal in 2007 and the ACM’s A.M. Turing Award in 2009.

“Chuck was the engineer’s engineer, so knowledgeable, hands-on and down-to-earth,” said Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft’s AI and Research group. “We are very fortunate to have been associated with Chuck for many years.”

Related links:

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