Microsoft Opens Research Lab in New York City

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2012-05-04

Microsoft Opens Research Lab in New York City

Microsoft Research has opened a new lab in New York City, bringing the number of Microsoft research labs to 13 around the world.

As of May 3, the software giant€™s new research lab began work in a city known just as much for its vibrant educational and intellectual status as for its cultural diversities€”with institutions such as Columbia University and New York University among a host of others. Microsoft Research began two decades ago at the company€™s Redmond, Wash., headquarters and has become a global research force with 13 labs across four continents€”all devoted to advancing the state of the art in computing research and contributing cutting-edge advancements to Microsoft products.

Jennifer Chayes will now be managing director of both Microsoft Research New England, which she founded in July 2008, and Microsoft Research New York City. The new lab is based in Manhattan

€œThe addition of Microsoft Research New York City reflects the company€™s long-term investment in basic research,€ Rick Rashid, Microsoft chief research officer and head of Microsoft Research, said in a statement. €œIn concert with Microsoft€™s product groups, Microsoft Research guides and influences the company€™s pursuit of applying transformative technologies and new technology trends to its products and services.€

€œThe Microsoft Research New York City lab reflects an opportunity for Microsoft Research researchers and developers worldwide to interact deeply with the vibrant academic and tech communities in the New York metropolitan area, as well as an opportunity to attract great new talent to Microsoft," Chayes said.

Fifteen world-class researchers form the lab€™s initial team, including three founding members, each of whom is a leader in fields of vital importance to Microsoft Research and brings strong ties to the academic community of the New York metropolitan area, Microsoft said.

David Pennock, who conducts research at the intersection of computer science and economics, is past chair of the Association for Computing Machinery€™s (ACM) Special Interest Group on Electronic Commerce, the academic organization dedicated to topics in that area. Pennock will serve as assistant managing director of the new lab.

Duncan Watts, a former full professor of sociology at Columbia University and a pioneer of modern network science, focuses on computational and experimental social science. He is the author of three books, including €œSix Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age€ and, most recently, €œEverything Is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer.€

John Langford, whose interests are in scalable interactive machine learning, learning reductions and other areas, is the program co-chairman for this year€™s International Conference on Machine Learning.

The three, each of whom previously worked for Yahoo Research, represent Microsoft Research€™s ongoing ability to attract the best and brightest researchers, and their particular strengths underscore the close alignment between the New York City and New England labs, the company said.

New York, New England Labs Will Focus on Complementary Studies

Microsoft Research New England has developed a reputation for being rich in interdisciplinary research, and it pursues work in social media, empirical economics and machine learning, in addition to theoretical computer science, cryptography and mathematics.

The New York City lab will investigate complementary research areas: computational and experimental social science, algorithmic economics and machine learning, along with information retrieval. The close collaboration of the two labs, and their interaction with the rest of Microsoft Research, is designed to extend state-of-the-art work in these key areas.

The new researchers will engage in large-scale machine learning, prediction and online market design. They also will develop new techniques in computational and online experimental social science. Their research will help shape the technology of the future, and they all expressed an eagerness to embrace their new roles.

€œIt€™s an incredible opportunity,€ Pennock said in a statement. €œWe get to start a new branch of Microsoft Research, which is the best place in the world to do research. It€™s a chance to work with some great people in the New England lab and throughout Microsoft Research and Microsoft. It€™s an incredible time for Microsoft, and we are looking forward to doing great research and having great product impact within the company.€ Pennock added that the new lab will be able to plug into the thriving New York tech ecosystem.

€œIn addition to growing our already-strong ties to the academic research community,€ he said, €œwe€™d like to play our part in the New York City tech scene, including the startup, venture capitalist and hack/make communities, plus the new Cornell-Technion campus, contributing what we can to Mayor Michael Bloomberg€™s vision of New York City as a tech hub.€

€œMy ambition for the New York City lab is that it will become a leading center, if not the leading center, for computational and experimental social science, leveraging the intellectual capital of the New York City academic community, the tremendous data assets of Microsoft and Microsoft€™s partners, and the rapidly growing local tech scene,€ said Watts, in a statement. €œThe scope of what we can do here is incredible, and the support we have received already from the Microsoft Research community is both gratifying and impressive.€

Langford relishes the opportunities afforded by Microsoft Research€™s position in the research community. €œMachine learning is shifting from an academic discipline to an industrial tool,€ he said. €œIn the process, many new research problems are being discovered, shifting the center of gravity of research to a place between industry and academia, exactly where Microsoft Research lies. The sheer scale of Microsoft also implies that successful research can be used many times across the company. It€™s always fun to have deployed systems to brag about, and the more, the merrier.€

In addition to Pennock, Watts and Langford, the group of founding members of the New York City lab includes Dan Goldstein and Siddharth Suri, experts in experimental and behavioral social science; Sharad Goel and Jake Hofman, experts in computational social science; and David Rothschild, an expert in economics and prediction markets.

The Research Will Help Microsoft to Respond Quickly to World Changes

A key part of Microsoft Research€™s mission is to give Microsoft the agility to respond immediately when the world changes€”or to change the world itself. The new researchers at Microsoft Research New York City found that impossible to resist. Langford cited four reasons: €œMicrosoft moved very fast in making decisions, and I sincerely appreciate the agility. Microsoft has simultaneously become a more open and competitive company, including, in my case, support for Vowpal Wabbit. Microsoft Research has a strong tradition of support for basic research, which I greatly value. And a combination of outstanding and unique opportunities for future collaborations yielding products and research.€

€œMicrosoft Research is a world-class research organization with a long history and a deeply rooted culture of appreciation for both basic and applied science,€ Watts said. €œThe opportunity to found a new Microsoft Research lab is one that comes along only rarely, and the chance to do it in such a great city as New York is, for me personally, even more special and exciting. It really feels like a once-in-a-career opportunity.€

For his part, Pennock has firsthand experience at Microsoft Research, having interned at the Redmond lab in 1998 under Eric Horvitz, now a Microsoft distinguished scientist and deputy managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond. Over the years, Pennock has maintained professional relationships with Microsoft Research colleagues such as Horvitz, Chris Meek, Moshe Babaioff and Moshe Tennenholtz. But it was Chayes who, for him, proved convincing.

€œOne thing we€™re going to do right away is visit Redmond and get to know the product groups,€ Pennock said. €œWe€™ll be working a lot with the Online Services Division, so we want to meet those folks. We€™ll also be talking to people in the Server and Tools Business. We want to make sure we are looped into the company and thinking about Microsoft products from Bing to Xbox to servers to €¦ everything.€

Meanwhile, in a blog post on the opening of the new lab in New York, Chayes said she was happy to be going back to her birthplace to work, and added that Microsoft's move to New York City could not come at a better time because Mayor Michael Bloomberg has dedicated the city as a prime locale for technological innovation and entrepreneurship. Added Chayes:

On a global level, our New York City researchers will become part of the Microsoft Research network of more than 850 Ph.D. researchers, focused on more than 55 areas of computing, and will have the ability to collaborate openly with leading academic, government and industry researchers.

With labs in seven countries worldwide, we€™re always intrigued by how location plays such a critical factor in the development and success of each Microsoft lab. In a way, New York City can be considered a living laboratory, built upon an intellectual foundation of renowned research institutions, an energized collaborative culture and a hotbed of activity in high tech, financial services, publishing, advertising, art and design.

This new lab will provide an opportunity for Microsoft Research researchers and developers worldwide to share and interact with the New York City academic and tech communities. Specifically, MSR-NYC has started to reach out to prestigious research universities in the area, including Columbia, NYU, the new Cornell-Technion NYC campus, Princeton and Rutgers, to discuss ways to collaborate more closely and to support each other. We look forward to continuing these conversations and realizing the potential opportunities available.

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