Microsoft Research Demos Some Technologies of the Future

 
 
By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-09-26
 
 
 

REDMOND, Wash.—Microsoft Research demonstrated a number of cutting-edge technologies that are under development at an event here Sept. 26, including a transparent display that uses computer vision, technology that brings real-world aspects back into computing, and the use of spatial memory to navigate source code.

At an event at the Redmond campus to celebrate Microsoft Researchs 15th anniversary, Redmond lab director and corporate vice president Dan Ling moderated a demonstration of a prototype of technology that uses sensing as a real modality.

"The idea of the interactions you can have using computer vision techniques is an area Microsoft Research got into some 10 years ago, when we had no idea how this would be useful going forward," he said.

The technology, known as TouchLight, is a transparent display that uses computer vision technology to enable new applications in gesture-based user interfaces, video conferencing, augmented reality and ubiquitous computing.

Surface computing technologies such as this do away with the mouse and monitor and allow images and data to be displayed on tabletops, walls and other surfaces and manipulated by making simple hand gestures.

Ling also moderated several other technology demonstrations, including using visualization technologies to provide innovative ways to visualize and explore the world, such as combining maps from Windows Live Local with other maps of bus routes or bicycle trails to create entirely new hybrid maps.

He also oversaw a demonstration of streaming intelligence technologies that combine Web services, machine learning and sensors to help mobile devices make useful predictions and inferences, such as helping cell phones decide whether to interrupt users based on whether theyre in an important meeting or simply stuck in traffic.

Ling said Microsoft Research has also been working on technologies that use reason, even under conditions of uncertainty, and then take action based on this.

"We have been building statistical models on intention for the past five or six years, looking at how busy the person is and what the cost of interrupting them is at any time.

"This can translate into a record of what happened in your life and on your desktop when the files were created and used, and can be used for biographical purposes and as a tool to memorialize experiences like trips and vacations," he said.

Another technology, Code Thumbnails, outlined here in PDF form, uses spatial memory to navigate source code.

It introduces two user interface features to Microsoft Visual Studio: the Code Thumbnail Scrollbar for navigating within a file; and the Code Thumbnail Desktop for navigating between files.

The Scrollbar supplements the documents vertical scrollbar with a thumbnail image of the entire document. The document text is shrunk to fit the height of the scrollbar.

Researchers at the event said that this technology is designed to help programmers, and the normal scrollbar for the editing windows gives a snapshot of the entire program shrunk down to fit, giving a quick way to get to arbitrary parts of the program that they are editing.

Another related technology is a tool for team awareness: a dashboard that shows what files are currently checked out, who is working on them, which files are being edited and by which method. It has applicability and use beyond groups of developers, Ling said.

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While many of these nascent technologies have not found their way into shipping products as yet, others, like the Microsoft SmartScreen technology, have.

SmartScreen is at the core of anti-spam filters in products like Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, MSN 8 and Hotmail.

SmartScreen Technology, which uses a probability-based algorithm to essentially "learn" what is and what isnt spam based on characteristics of both types of e-mail, grew out of the work begun in 1997 and which, in early 2003, saw some Microsoft researchers joined with staff from other groups to form the Anti-Spam Technology and Strategy Group.

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