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Microsoft Research New England: Year in Review

December 27, 2011 | By Microsoft blog editor

Posted by Jennifer Chayes, managing director of Microsoft Research New England

Year in Review 

The latest in a series of posts from the directors of Microsoft Research’s labs worldwide, this one from Jennifer Chayes of Microsoft Research New England.

It’s been a year of expansion and connection for Microsoft Research New England.

Economics has grown substantially at our lab this year. We’ve welcomed our first full-time economist, Markus Mobius. We’ve seen tremendous growth and success in our Empirical Economics program, headed by our chief economist, Susan Athey, and Mobius. We now have many Empirical Economics projects concerning our online-services data—from the effects of news aggregators on local news consumption to the effects of currency fluctuations on advertising revenue. We also have some exciting ongoing projects in empirical health-care economics. There are more than a dozen external economists actively engaged with us in projects using Microsoft data.

We’ve had remarkable success in our social-media efforts. danah boyd has continued to receive widespread recognition for her work, which provides new inroads into an understanding of online privacy among American youth. Her joint survey with Harvard and a host of other universities, quantifying parental concerns around the online privacy of their children, has received much press coverage and is being used to inform government regulation.

Our small computational-biology effort is also bearing fruit. In collaboration with groups at Politecnico di Torino and MIT, we are using algorithms developed by Microsoft Research to address combinatorial optimization questions of biological relevance. Using these algorithms, we are interpreting data from the Cancer Genome Atlas to identify drug targets for particular kinds of cancer, starting with aggressive forms of brain cancer. It’s exciting to see that the same algorithms that we use for multicasting can be used in cancer research, as well.

Our machine-learning group also has grown this year, with the addition of Sham Kakade from Wharton Business School. Ongoing efforts in machine learning include our Similarity Explorer, which uses crowdsourcing to determine similarities among many kinds of images, including faces. We also have ongoing work in vision research, with notable successes in deblurring of video images.

Finally, our theorists have been quite active. We have exciting new work in cryptography with leakage, property testing, algorithmic game theory, and many other areas.

Microsoft Research New England also shipped its first product this year. In collaboration with Eric Horvitz’s group at Microsoft Research Redmond, we shipped what is known as Microsoft Amalga Readmissions Management, which was based on research initiated at our lab to use machine learning to detect patterns in hospital readmissions data.

We’ve had a remarkable group of more than 350 visitors this year, in areas including theoretical computer science, machine learning, economics, social media, biology, and physics.

We also celebrate recognition for individual members of the lab. boyd received the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader award, and yours truly has been recognized by several women’s organizations, receiving the Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology annual Leadership Award and the Girl Scouts’ Leading Woman Award. The lab continues to be proud of its outreach efforts encouraging young women to enter science and technology.

Our vision to build a lab that integrates the more theoretical and mathematical sciences with the social sciences is well on its way to becoming a reality. We look toward the coming year with hope and excitement.