This week I attended the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, an annual event held at MSR Redmond. The 2013 event gathered over 400 faculty from around the world. I was honored to receive an invitation, as these invitations are competitive: MSR researchers recommend faculty to invite, and a committee at MSR selects a subset who receive invitations.
Below are some of my impressions from the event. But, before I go on, I first wanted to thank MSR researchers John Krumm, Ivan Tashev and Shamsi Iqbal for spending time with me at the summit. Thanks also to MSR’s Tim Paek, who has played a key role in a number of our studies at UNH.
Bill Gates inspires
Bill Gates was the opening keynote speaker. He discussed his work with the Gates Foundation and answered audience questions. One of the interesting things from the Q&A session was Bill’s proposed analogy that MOOCs are similar to recorded music: in the past there was much more live music, while today we primarily listen to recorded music. In the future live lectures might also become much less common and we might instead primarily listen to recorded lectures by the best lecturers. While this might sound scary to faculty, Bill points out that lectures are just one part of a faculty member’s education-related efforts. Others include work in labs, study sessions, and discussions.
MSR is a uniquely open industry lab
While MSR is only about 1% of Microsoft, it spends as much on computing research as the NSF. And most importantly, as Peter Lee, Corporate VP MSR, pointed out, MSR researchers publish, and in general conduct their work in an open fashion. MSR also sets its own course independently, even of Microsoft proper.
Microsoft supports women in computing
The Faculty Summit featured a session on best practices in promoting computing disciplines to women. One suggestion that stuck with me is that organizations (e.g. academic departments) should track their efforts and outcomes. Once you start tracking, and is creating a paper trail, things will start to change.
Moore’s law is almost dead (and will be by 2025)
Doug Burger, Director of Client and Cloud Applications in Microsoft Research’s Extreme Computing Group, pointed out that we cannot keep increasing computational power by reducing transistor size, as our transistors are becoming atom-thin. There’s a need for new approaches. One possible direction is to customize hardware: e.g. if we only need 20 bits for a particular operation, why implement the logic with 32?
The Lab of Things is a great tool for ubicomp research
Are you planning a field experiment in which you expect to collect data from electronic devices in the home? Check out the Lab of Things (LoT), it’s really promising. It allows you to quickly deploy your system, monitor system activity from the cloud, and log data in the cloud. Here’s a video introducing the LoT:
Seattle and the surrounding area is beautiful
I really like Seattle, with the Space Needle, the lakes, the UW campus, Mount Rainier and all of the summer sunshine.