Microsoft shows off big data, big-screen prototypes at research fair

Microsoft researchers are showing off some of the many big-data, machine-learning and natural-user-interface technologies under development.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is showing off prototypes of some of the fruits of its research labs from around the world, many of which have big-data, machine-learning and natural-user-interface tie-ins.


TechFest, the 2013 version of Microsoft's annual research and development showcase, kicked off this week on March 5. March 5 was the only day that TechFest is open to non-employees. A number of press, customers and partners had a chance to see a subset of the research projects that Microsoft will be highlighting throughout the week.

A number of the projects on display are the latest versions of research projects on which employees have been working for years. SketchInsight -- an interactive whiteboard system, for example -- is an evolution of Sketch Vis whiteboarding and data analysis project that has been updated to include incorporation of touch and pen NUI input. Others, like ViralSearch from the new Microsoft New York research labs, were brand-new to TechFest.

ViralSearch allows users to visualize "viral" content like news stories or photos spreading via Twitter, to identify the sources of trending topics. There were quite a few other projects on display, including the Web-based SandDance visualization system, that also focused on making data visualizations simpler to create and consume.

Machine learning is a big focus for Microsoft (and Microsoft Research in particular). Machine learning is all about about automatically improving system performance, using techniques like data mining, autonomous discovery, database updating and the like.

Several of the TechFest projects on display were built using the Infer.Net framework. Infer.Net is Microsoft-developed technology for running Bayesian inference in graphical models and for probabilistic programming. (Microsoft makes a subset of Infer.Net available for non-commercial licensing.)

Big screens -- like those being designed and built by Perceptive Pixel, a company Microsoft acquired last year, were prominent at the TechFest showcase. Researchers showed off ways they believe these large multi-touch screens will become key to making meetings more productive in the coming years.

Microsoft Research generates roughly 25 percent of Microsoft's patents, officials said.


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