Saturday, February 1, 2014

TechVista 2014: My Experience

24th January 2014.
Though the whole country was waiting for this day to see Salman’s brand new movie, my excitement was for some other reason. I got up very early that morning, as i had to attend a very exciting symposium organised every year by Microsoft Research India. It’s Called TechVista, and this year it was organised in my city, Jaipur. I was invited by my seniors and was told that its a very good opportunity for everyone of us, so i immediately agreed.
That morning was damn cold, but still, i walked down 3 kilometers early in the morning to the venue which was the huge auditorium of  Tagore International School, Jaipur. I guess i was the first one to reach there.
Finally after a long wait, gates were open, and i entered with a lot of excitement. I put on the entry Band given to me and waited for event to start. There was a huge crowd. Later we were told that there were as many as 1800 people in that hall. That’s a huge number of buzzing brains.
The Start:_ 
The Managing Director of Microsoft Research India, Dr. Anandan welcomed us and told us the contents of the symposium. There were 8 keynotes in total from 8 different speakers. He told us that we should all move in the direction we want in our life.
They just try to shift our mind compass a bit in the right direction.
He then called the first Speaker. This was the most inspirational part of all. Head of Microsoft ResearchDr. Peter Lee took the stage and told us why we were here and what could we do as a computer science researcher in future. He told us the real meaning of the term RESEARCH in a humorous way. He told us what inspires a Researcher. According to him, its the Beauty, which inspires him to Research about that thing and in reality, its very true. We would have never looked towards the sky if it were not beautiful, we would not have dived deep into the oceans if it was not beautiful and just like that, there are many other examples.
He took us back 45 years when he was 10 and told us about two major discoveries in 1969, The Moon Landing mission and ARPANET, both pioneer example of  Research. But asked a very thoughtful question. Which one of the both had broader impact? The obvious answer was ARPANET which was the very first step towards Internet revolution and because of which you are able to read this text. With that he was trying to make a point that
In Research, We are always seeking the Unexpected.
He also explained Research in technical way, telling us about recent success in speech and writing recognition technology. It was amazing to see the research and efforts done behind the simple technology we use daily.
In The Middle:_
Dr. Hsiao-Wuen Hon, the Managing Director of Microsoft Research Asia, gave a brief intro of how datafication of the world can bring a huge change in the way we interact with the computer in future. He illustrated the tech-tics they used to develop the Virtual Reality in Xbox consoles with the help of Kinect. No doubt its an amazing experience to play Kinect games on Xbox with the fact that it understands our faces, motion and gestures and allow us to control a character with our own movements, but looking behind the scene is even more amazing and exciting. Everything about it, like where did they got the inspiration, how they developed and what were the steps, was explained by him and it was a life remember experience. One of all the things which was truly jaw-dropping was a video he showed of Microsoft Research Asia’s 21st Century Computing 2012event in Tianjin, China, in which, Rick Rashid, Microsoft’s Chief Research Officer, demonstrates a speech recognition breakthrough via machine translation that converts his spoken English words into computer-generated Chinese language. The breakthrough is patterned after deep neural networks and significantly reduces errors in spoken as well as written translation.
That’s completely out of this world. WOW!

Dr. Anandan was again on the stage and he introduced the team with which we are having opportunity to work with, i.e., The Microsoft Research India Team. He told us, who are the ones who become researchers. There are two kind of people, one who are mission focused, following dead lines to complete a task and other are researchers who asks questions and try to find the answers themselves. They don’t have any dead lines, they just do their task, without thinking about impact or result. Their favorite place is Coffee cafe. They take two months break and do nothing but sit in coffee shop drinking lots of coffee and doing something on their PC. That’s a very exciting carrier, isn’t it? We got to do what we like, our way. He gave us a rough idea what to do to become a successful researcher by sharing brief life history of every member.
Next Speech was for we students of Jaipur. Siddharth Prakash, Research Program Manager at Microsoft Research India, introduced Massively Empowered Classroom, a research project designed to bring the highest quality classroom material to every undergraduate engineering student in India. With MEC, one can easily dive into an ocean of high class knowledge which is mostly available in High Graded Institutes. Moreover, one can easily find the material with respect to what’s going in their classes as the courses are synchronized with various universities, including Rajasthan Technical University, Gujarat University, Pune University, Anna University and VTU.  He also told us about Certification available for Students as well as Faculty members which could be earned by watching videos on the website and taking online quizzes. Not only that, but top scorers get a chance  to have potential internship opportunities at Microsoft Research and other Research Organizations.
He also introduced the Research Connector. He told us that Research Connector is a community initiative by Microsoft Research India focused on creating research awareness, opportunities and a bridging platform between researchers, academicians and students currently pursuing CS-related courses in India. He showed a way for young researchers to come and prove themselves.
Wow, after getting so much knowledge, we were all starving and they rescued us by giving us Lunch break. Lunch was provided by them. I was really impressed by the management of the event. They took care of every aspect. I want to thank them for their efforts.

After the lunch, we all were ready for a Space ride. Sir Curtis Wong introduced the WorldWide Telescope to us and showed how they gathered a huge amount of data from world telescopes and created a free Virtual Universe software to be used be everyone. He explained the features of that software and told us how anyone could go deep inside the universe and create their own stories. The surprise was that when he told us that with the idea of collecting huge data and creating virtual universe, how they created a soon to be launched feature of our very own Excel 2013 which is called Power Map. Power Map is a 3D data visualization tool for Excel that provides an immersive experience for making discoveries in data that might never be seen in traditional 2D tables and charts. Power Map lets you plot geographic and temporal data visually, analyze that data in 3D, and create cinematic tours to share with others. Read More.
Then came a very interesting part, Probabilistic Models and Machine Learning.Dr. Chris Bishop made us aware about how machine learns from our habits. We all have used a feature on internet knowingly or unknowingly, called suggestions. On youtube, we all have seen a personalized homepage of our, on Facebook, we must have seen pages we might like. He explained, how a machine knows what we might like next with example of sorting a bunch of movies on his likes and dislikes. It was a very intuitive demonstration and we got to learn how do machine suggests a movie. Using the similar algorithms, youtube suggests the videos based on what we already watched, liked and duration of watching. Similarly, Facebook suggest pages based on what we already liked and what we are talking about now.
It was now time to discuss The Impact of Computer Science Research on Science, Technology, and Society. To explain the impacts, Dr. Jeannette Wing was on stage. She was surprised to see crowd cheering for her, for obvious reason that a beautiful madam was there on stage. In her 40 min talk, he showed how Microsoft Research India is helping treating tuberculosis patients by keeping check regarding their timely take of correct drugs. They developed the biometric monitoring system in response to one of the most pressing problems in battling tuberculosis — the number of patients who fail to complete their treatment programs and thus develop and spread a deadlier version of the disease. Read More.
The End:_

We created a world record, yeah in a way. Dr. Bill Thies, a young researcher, and a very humorous personality, immediately filled the auditorium with lot of energy. Everybody was double conscious when he said we are going to make a world record. Before the start of the Symposium, we were given qcards, One of them says NO and other said YES (but later it was found that both cards were same and responds NO to the software.). Actually, he was trying to demonstrate his recent research in human-computer interaction (HCI). He told us how clickers used in some schools is a very expensive option to interact with students and how he created a system to interact with many students simultaneously without any expensive device but just a digital camera, a Laptop and Qcards (which are mere pages with printed Black & White Blocks). He also tried to demonstrate the system with our participation. He asked us a few two way questions, and we had to answer Yes or No by raising respective Qcard and his friend took some pics with a digital camera and the software they developed recognized the response from as many as 1000 people sitting there, and that was a world record as no one had ever recorded responses of so many people at a time that cheaply. I was glad to be part of such an amazing Record.
This was all for that day, and literally i enjoyed every minute of the event. It was a first of a kind experience for me and i would never forget. Thanks to Microsoft Research India for organizing such an amazing event for us.
Picture Credits:- Microsoft Research India
Thank you for reading.
Ayush Mathur

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