Microsoft Faculty Summit

Summit speakers

Last week I and a number of other representatives from NCWIT member organizations attended the 2008 Microsoft Faculty Summit, at the invitation of our host and NCWIT Executive Advisory Council member, Rick Rashid of Microsoft Research.  It was also great fun to see everybody, I learned a lot, and my attendance germinated some important new ideas for NCWIT.

In the opening session, Dr. Tony Hey talked about some cool new projects in the works at Microsoft Research:

  • A "worldwide" telescope that lets your computer act as a virtual telescope, blending multiple sources of rich media seamless educational or scientific experience.
  • Trident, a scientific workflow application that allows scientists to explore and visualize oceanographic data in real-time.
  • The Connectome Project, a collaboration with Harvard, which is producing a wiring diagram of the brain

We are always asked by the press why people should want to be computer scientists?  Um, how about so that they can contribute to cool and meaningful projects like these?

Rich Rashid moderated a panel on the "cyberspace connection", which explored the impact of technology on individuals, society and research.  And here I must plug the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I'm also Executive-in-Residence: the interscetion of technology, society, and individuals is at the core of what we do, and so I was quite interested in this session.  Dan Reed started off the session with the observation that it is international news when a heavily used web service goes offline, for even a few minutes.  Ed Felten opened with the view that where data is stored (in the cloud or in your personal device) is a huge privacy issue.  In my opinion this influences technical architecture in interesting ways, and how it's done could differentiate Internet software vendors.

Panelist Liz Lawley had some great observations:

  • Our current social tools lack context: we share things with other people based on a complex web of variables, and currently most tools only let you be "in" or "out".  "People need villages but they're being forced into cities," she observed. We need different levels of social complexities and relationships.  How will technology solve this problem?
  • Concerning the realtime nature of news, she marvels, "People in the past who never had a voice are sharing stories, details. We can read the real stories of people who are experiencing news events".

Later that day, Mark Guzdial spoke  on  the topic of contextualized computing. Many of you know Mark, a tireless advocate for changing the way we teach computing.  He believes that we must create introductory computing courses that work for everybody.  A lover of history, Mark took us back to the days of Alan Perlis, who argued that computer science should be part of a liberal arts education.  Computer science is the study of process or  the automated execution of processes, which changes everything.  Computer simulations allow us to try things virtually that we don't want to try out in the real world.  The world is increasingly algorithmic but most people don't understand algorithmic logic.  Mark aims to change all of that, and his talk was inspirational. 

On the summit's second day, we participated on a panel about attracting more women to computing.  NCWIT partners ABI, ACM and CRA shared the panel with NCWIT.  Microsoft announced a new scholarship program for women in computing.  We also talked about focusing more on gender in future Microsoft Faculty Summits.  I got some good input concerning our Aspirations Award and the potential for forming a "cohort" program for these young women.

Thank you, Microsoft - these are great events for sharing and learning.