Last week I participated in my first Microsoft Faculty Summit, an annual soiree where Microsoft brings about a hundred faculty to Redmond to see the latest in Microsoft Research. I love these kinds of meetings because I enjoy getting the chance to talk to computer scientists across the broad spectrum of research. Unlike other field, CS hasn't had a true annual meeting since the 80's so it takes events like this to bring subareas together. "Unlike other fields" is an expression we say far too often in computer science.
This was the first summit since the closing of the Silicon Valley lab and the reorganization of MSR into NExT (New Experiences and Technologies) led by Peter Lee and MSR Labs led by Jeannette Wing. Labs focusing on long-term research while NExT tries to put research into Microsoft products. Peter gave the example of real-time translation into Skype already available for public preview. Everyone in MSR emphasized that Microsoft will remain committed to open long-term research and said the latest round of cuts (announced while the summit was happening) will not affect research.
HoloLens had the most excitement, a way to manipulate virtual three-dimensional images. Unfortunately the summit didn't have HoloLenses for us to try out but I did get a cool HoloLens T-shirt. While one expects the most interest in HoloLens for gaming, Microsoft emphasized the educational aspect. Microsoft has a call for proposals for research and education uses for HoloLens.
I didn't go to many of the parallel sessions, instead spending the time networking with colleagues old and new. I did really enjoy the research showcase which highlight many of the research projects. I tried out the Skype translator, failing a reverse Turing test because I thought I was talking to a computer but it was really a Spanish speaking human. My colleagues at MSR NYC were showing off their wisdom of the crowds. Microsoft is moving their defunct academic search directly into Bing and Cortana. I tried Binging myself on the prototype and it did indeed list my research papers but not my homepage and this blog. They said they'll fix that in future updates.
Monica Lam showed off her latest social messaging system Omlet to improve privacy by keeping data on the Omlet server for no longer than two weeks though I was more excited by their open API. Feel free to Omlet me.
While the meeting had its share of hype (quantum computers to solve world hunger), I really enjoyed the couple of days in Redmond. Despite the SVC closing, Microsoft is still one of the few companies that has labs focused on true basic research.