Calc Intelligence

trusted collaborator
and teacher to empower​
more people to get​
more value from data

We are hiring: multiple internships available

By Calc Intelligence, we mean the research goal of bringing intelligence to end-user programming, and in particular to spreadsheets. The spreadsheet has continually evolved to remain at the forefront of productivity tools and work practices for over forty years. For example, today’s spreadsheets embrace collaboration, serve as databases, are mobile, and encompass AI-powered interaction via natural language. However, the soul of the spreadsheet remains the grid, and its formulas. Indeed, spreadsheets are the world’s most widely-used programming technology – but they also embody apparently-fundamental limitations. The spreadsheet of the future is a trustworthy collaborator and teacher. We are working on foundational ideas that will take a qualitative step forward, to extend dramatically the reach of what end users can do with spreadsheets. We work in deep collaboration with the Excel team in Microsoft Office on Project Yellow, bringing new data types and other features to Excel.

A Timeline

June 29, 2022: Andy presented a talk on Why Statistical Thinking is Transforming Programming Language Research at the Colloquium on Probabilistic Programming at Collège de France.

February 8, 2022: The advanced formula environment (AFE), a Microsoft Garage project, makes creating, editing, and reusing named formulas and LAMBDA functions easy. Today, Excel LAMBDA is generally available on all Excel endpoints, and we release the advanced formula environment. See this blog post by Jack Williams of Calc Intel and Chris Gross, Excel PM for LAMBDA. And for further details see the Garage page for AFE.

October 12, 2021: Andy, Jack and our former intern Matt McCutchen are presenting at EXCEL VIRTUALLY GLOBAL 2021, a conference for the Excel community – looking forward to a lot of learning! We’ll be presenting a new plugin for easily editing LAMBDAs and some of the research from our team. Update: the videos are available here.

October 11, 2021: Jack and Andy are presenting their paper Where-Provenance for Bidirectional Editing in Spreadsheets at VL/HCC 2021.

May 7, 2021: Andy spoke on Excel meets Lambda at Harley Eades’ seminar at Augusta University. New material on XSUM, a sample LAMBDA that can add columns of texts including arithmetic expressions and uncertain ranges, interpreted probabilistically.

April 22, 2021: See xkcd 2453.

comic about Excel lambda

April 13, 2021: Our work features prominently in a detailed history of research collaborations in Excel: Innovation by (and beyond) the numbers. The story starts with the paper on sheet-defined functions by Simon Peyton Jones in our team, and our academic colleagues Margaret Burnett and Alan Blackwell, back in 2003. And today, as David Gainer (Vice President of Product, Office) writes, MSR researchers are a “core part of the Excel team helping create the product’s future“. Come join us!

February 18, 2021: Andy and Simon keynoted on Excel meets Lambda at the Lambda Days 2021 conference.

January 25, 2021: Microsoft Excel the programming language is evolving. With the recent release of LAMBDA, users can now define new functions in the program’s formula language. Read our blog post LAMBDA: the ultimate Excel worksheet function to learn about the feature and about research opportunities within the Calc Intelligence team.

January 19, 2021: Microsoft Research sponsors the POPL 2021 research conference. Watch this sponsor video, made by the Calc Intel team, to learn about research in our project at MSR and to hear from the Excel team about our partnership.

December 3, 2020: LAMBDA, the ultimate spreadsheet function, is out for Excel Beta customers. LAMBDA turns Excel formulas into custom functions. Our team has worked deeply with Excel to help deliver features including Dynamic Arrays, Data Types, LET, and now LAMBDA.

November 5, 2020: Shuang presented our entity-property tabular linking system at ISWC which was awarded 2nd prize in the SemTab competition.

August 26, 2020: Matt presented our paper on Elastic Sheet-Defined Functions at the International Conference on Functional Programming.

August 9, 2020: Simon’s talk on Elastic Sheet-Defined Functions from the Haskell Love Conference is now available online.

July 13, 2020: We are delighted to announce that Calc.ts in Excel for the web is inducted into the Microsoft Garage Wall of Fame. Customers increasingly use the web version of Excel, from Teams,, and Office 365. When you use Excel on the web, Calc.ts evaluates your formulas in the browser to accelerate your experience of calculation to desktop performance. Calc.ts has been a thrilling three-year collaboration between Calc Intelligence at MSR Cambridge and the Excel team. Excel for the web has so many users that Calc.ts saves them seven person-years every day!

May 15, 2020: We sent a journal-version of our work on Elastic Sheet-Defined Functions to the Journal of Functional Programming. We are excited that this work is cross-disciplinary – we assess both with the formal development expected in the PL community and also with a comparative user study as expected by the HCI community. Update: our paper is accepted for the journal, and will be presented at the International Conference on Functional Programming, August 2020.

April 28, 2020: Andy was delighted to brief techies at JPMorgan Chase, via Zoom, on our long-term collaboration with Excel on Project Yellow. Here is his deck: Project Yellow: Bringing Data Types and Functional Programming to Excel He spoke about some of the amazing features we’ve contributed to and that are now shipping in Excel, like data types, dynamic arrays, and the brand new LET function, together with some longer-term research we have published on Calculation View and Elastic Sheet-Defined Functions.

April 2020: we are publishing papers about our Gridlets concept for re-use in spreadsheets at ESOP 2020 and CHI EA 2020. Our ESOP 2020 paper presents the first formal calculus of spreadsheets with spilled arrays, a powerful concept recently introduced by Excel’s dynamic arrays. We also report results from a survey about the relationship between programming and spreadsheet experience in a CHI EA 2020 paper.

October 17, 2019: Happy Spreadsheet Day 2019! It is 40 years since the first electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc 1.0, was launched on October 17, 1979. Remember, life begins at 40. Excited for the next 40 years!

September 10, 2019: Andy’s keynote talk on End-User Probabilistic Programming at the QEST 2019 conference in Glasgow.

August 20, 2019: our session on the Future of Spreadsheeting at the Microsoft Faculty Summit. Bill Gates was there too!

January 14, 2019: our blog on Influencing Mainstream Software-applying PL research ideas to transform spreadsheets.