Saturday, November 01, 2008

Day Three PDC Keynote: Microsoft Research Magic

Welcome to the last keynote, and what a magical grand finale it was! The presentation opened with an appealing video demonstrating the history and relevance of the Microsoft Research Department. Rick Rashid, the longest serving MS executive, delivered a very natural performance both in the video and on stage. He knows what he is talking about and has a real passion for pure computer science.
Rick started by explaining the Microsoft Research Mission Statement, which is to:
• Expand the state of the art in each of the areas we do research
• Rapidly transfer innovative technologies into Microsoft products
• Ensure that MS products have a future
Rick’s history in the software business leaves no doubt that this is someone with passion for what he does and the output of this passion is seen in many products today. Rick worked on the Mach kernal, the underlying software that NeXT computers used in their NeXTStep operating system. This kernal still lives today in Apple’s OSX products and the iPhone OS.
Did you know that Microsoft Research contains 850 PhD researchers at their worldwide facilities? That is a larger faculty than even Carnegie Melon or Brown. Microsoft’s researchers have distinguished themselves among research staffs in the field of computer science. The size of the Microsoft Research Department is equivalent to creating a Berkley staff every year for 17 years. The largest facility is in Redmond, the second largest is in Beijing, China. Microsoft Research worldwide owns the largest Ph.D internship program in Computer Science in the world, and its researchers write between 10-30% of papers at academic conferences.
Some of the fundamental computer science research has lead to some brilliant output in the form of concurrency runtimes and the Microsoft Distributed Software Services. This work will have impacts on fundamental software engineering and system design in the coming years.
As MS Research looks forward to 2020 they are doing more work on provable systems, to validate properties of large scale programs. The Vista driver verifier technology came from this research, we should expect more in the way of deterministic validation from this group. This is fantastic as it means we will be marching ever closer to truly bug free solutions. An example of the work being done is the solutions discovered to Church’s theorem to determine what can be recursively computed.
Microsoft Research is doing much of work to reduce energy consumption. While good for the environment, it is clear there is a business driver here to help reduce the massive cost of running hugely scaled data centers.
Presenter Feng Zhao spoke about research in sensor networks and how it can help people understand energy use as it pertains to human activities. We can improve energy efficiency - computing devices that consume a lot of power. For some time in software we have been asking questions like how much memory will your app use? and what is the CPU utilization? The next big question is how much energy does your software use?
Feng introduced a device that showed how sensor energy technology could be used to monitor and manage the cooling of machine rooms. Before the start of the convention, crews attached eight rows of sensors to the ceiling of the convention hall. Using a MS Virtual Earth map on the screen behind him, Feng centered the map in bird’s eye view on the location of the auditorium and a heat map displayed showing the relative temperature of the room in different areas throughout the day. At this time, 10,000 sensors are being placed in rack rooms in MS datacenters – perhaps to scale down some of the costs associated with running them, but whatever the case may be this is exciting stuff.
Who would have thought a software company could contribute to modern healthcare? MS uses computer science theory to tackle problems in the medical world in a dramatic new way. MSR is working towards designing medicine for a person and their genetics - the near future may hold mapping of the entire human genome for $1000 a person. Using this technology it will even be possible to create custom medicine for a person’s genetic makeup.
Right now, MS is working with scientists from Harvard and Oxford to apply SPAM hunting technology to the hunt for and killing of the HIV virus in the human body. HIV does not mutate at random, and bits of HIV serve as decoys making it an extremely difficult disease to tackle. MS is using computational analysis of HIV and computer science theory to innovatively attack problems in the medical world. Watch as this monolithic giant truly makes a positive difference in the lives of individuals and communities.
More fascinating contributions of MSR come in the field of education. Here in Washington State, the Center for Collaborative Computing at the University of Washington is just one of the many combined scholastic facilities around the world. At the Center for Personal Robotics at Georgia Tech, students receive a personal robot to program throughout their graduate career; fun and educational at the same time.
The World wide Telescope Equinox Beta links all the data from the great telescopes around the world to provide a 24/7 experience of the night sky. Even amateurs are finding things that professionals didn’t see using the 21 giga parsecs of visual data available in this amazing program.
MS programs empower children by teaching them to program. Matthew McLaurin, Principal Program Manager at MSR, presented Boku, a system that works like a game and allows children to program on their own. Programming is now a fundamental life skill.
Last on the agenda, Rick presented Steve Hodges and Shahram Izadi, who demonstrated Secondlight, an interaction beyond Surface using an infrared multi view display and pass through projection to bring the Surface interface out of the display. Words cannot describe the experience as shown on the video that was presented - this is the real magic in computing. When things appear to be beyond the achievable we know we are close to a new breakthrough in this field.
For those of you who love research as much as I do, you must see this exciting and compelling presentation by Rick Rishad, Senior Vice President of Microsoft Research and other members of the Microsoft team. Watch it here.

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