Research Focus: Week of March 6, 2023

Research Focus: Week of March 6, 2023

Microsoft Research Focus 11 edition, week of March 06, 2023

Welcome to Research Focus, a series of blog posts that highlights notable publications, events, code/datasets, new hires and other milestones from across the research community at Microsoft.


Hide and seek with Spectres

Attack methods like Spectre exploit speculative execution, one of the key performance optimizations of modern CPUs. Microsoft researchers are working on a novel testing tool that can automatically detect speculative leaks in commercial (back-box) CPUs. However, until now the testing process has been slow, which has hindered in-depth testing campaigns and the discovery of new classes of leakage.

In a new paper: Hide and Seek with Spectres: Efficient discovery of speculative information leaks with random testing, researchers from Microsoft and academic collaborators identify the root causes of the performance limitations in existing approaches—and propose techniques to overcome them. These techniques improve the testing speed over the state of the art by up to two orders of magnitude.

These improvements enabled the researchers to run a testing campaign of unprecedented depth on Intel and AMD CPUs. In the process, they discovered two types of previously unknown speculative leaks (affecting string comparison and division) that have escaped previous manual and automatic analyses.

The paper that describes the novel techniques will appear at IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy 2023.

Spotlight: On-Demand EVENT

Microsoft Research Summit 2022

Watch now to learn about some of the most pressing questions facing our research community and listen in on conversations with 120+ researchers around how to ensure new technologies have the broadest possible benefit for humanity.


Microsoft Research’s Philipp Witte on improving carbon sequestration with AI

Reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could play an important role in minimizing climate change. Carbon sequestration – the process of locking carbon dioxide in deep underground reservoirs – is a developing technology that could make a meaningful contribution if it were deployed at scale. Deep learning AI technologies can improve the models required to develop these reservoirs, which could help scale up sequestration projects to a meaningful level.

Philipp Witte, a researcher with Microsoft Research for Industry, recently chatted with Fixing the Future from IEEE Spectrum about how AI can help improve carbon sequestration. For example, AI can facilitate computationally intensive simulations and manage complex modeling requirements more efficiently than conventional methods.

Tune in to the podcast for a lively discussion at the intersection of AI and decarbonization.


Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School – Apply now

Microsoft Research New York City’s Data Science Summer School (DS3) is an intensive hands-on introduction to data science for local undergraduate students interested in attending graduate school in computer science and related fields. The curriculum includes coursework in data science and group research projects. This year’s program runs from May 30 to June 23, and applications will be accepted through April 11.

The course is taught by leading scientists at Microsoft Research New York City and each participant will receive a laptop and $3,000 stipend. Sessions will cover tools and techniques for acquiring, cleaning, and utilizing real-world data for research purposes. The course also serves as an introduction to problems in applied statistics and machine learning, and will cover the theory behind simple but effective methods for supervised and unsupervised learning.

Applicants must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program in the New York City area. We strongly encourage people from diverse, non-traditional, and under-represented backgrounds in STEM to apply.

Check out the program details and apply today.

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Responsible AI: The research collaboration behind new open-source tools offered by Microsoft

Responsible AI: The research collaboration behind new open-source tools offered by Microsoft

Flowchart showing how responsible AI tools are used together for targeted debugging of machine learning models: the Responsible AI Dashboard for the identification of failures; followed by the Responsible AI Dashboard and Mitigations Library for the diagnosis of failures; then the Responsible AI Mitigations Library for mitigating failures; and lastly the Responsible AI Tracker for tracking, comparing, and validating mitigation techniques from which an arrow points back to the identification phase of the cycle  to indicate the repetition of the process as models and data continue to evolve during the ML lifecycle.

As computing and AI advancements spanning decades are enabling incredible opportunities for people and society, they’re also raising questions about responsible development and deployment. For example, the machine learning models powering AI systems may not perform the same for everyone or every condition, potentially leading to harms related to safety, reliability, and fairness. Single metrics often used to represent model capability, such as overall accuracy, do little to demonstrate under which circumstances or for whom failure is more likely; meanwhile, common approaches to addressing failures, like adding more data and compute or increasing model size, don’t get to the root of the problem. Plus, these blanket trial-and-error approaches can be resource intensive and financially costly.

Through its Responsible AI Toolbox, a collection of tools and functionalities designed to help practitioners maximize the benefits of AI systems while mitigating harms, and other efforts for responsible AI, Microsoft offers an alternative: a principled approach to AI development centered around targeted model improvement. Improving models through targeting methods aims to identify solutions tailored to the causes of specific failures. This is a critical part of a model improvement life cycle that not only includes the identification, diagnosis, and mitigation of failures but also the tracking, comparison, and validation of mitigation options. The approach supports practitioners in better addressing failures without introducing new ones or eroding other aspects of model performance.

“With targeted model improvement, we’re trying to encourage a more systematic process for improving machine learning in research and practice,” says Besmira Nushi, a Microsoft Principal Researcher involved with the development of tools for supporting responsible AI. She is a member of the research team behind the toolbox’s newest additions: the Responsible AI Mitigations Library, which enables practitioners to more easily experiment with different techniques for addressing failures, and the Responsible AI Tracker, which uses visualizations to show the effectiveness of the different techniques for more informed decision-making.

Targeted model improvement: From identification to validation

The tools in the Responsible AI Toolbox, available in open source and through the Azure Machine Learning platform offered by Microsoft, have been designed with each stage of the model improvement life cycle in mind, informing targeted model improvement through error analysis, fairness assessment, data exploration, and interpretability.

For example, the new mitigations library bolsters mitigation by offering a means of managing failures that occur in data preprocessing, such as those caused by a lack of data or lower-quality data for a particular subset. For tracking, comparison, and validation, the new tracker brings model, code, visualizations, and other development components together for easy-to-follow documentation of mitigation efforts. The tracker’s main feature is disaggregated model evaluation and comparison, which breaks down model performance by data subset to present a clearer picture of a mitigation’s effects on the intended subset, as well as other subsets, helping to uncover hidden performance declines before models are deployed and used by individuals and organizations. Additionally, the tracker allows practitioners to look at performance for subsets of data across iterations of a model to help practitioners determine the most appropriate model for deployment.

photo of Besmira Nushi smiling for the camera

“Data scientists could build many of the functionalities that we offer with these tools; they could build their own infrastructure,” says Nushi. “But to do that for every project requires a lot of effort and time. The benefit of these tools is scale. Here, they can accelerate their work with tools that apply to multiple scenarios, freeing them up to focus on the work of building more reliable, trustworthy models.”

Besmira Nushi, Microsoft Principal Researcher

Building tools for responsible AI that are intuitive, effective, and valuable can help practitioners consider potential harms and their mitigation from the beginning when developing a new model. The result can be more confidence that the work they’re doing is supporting AI that is safer, fairer, and more reliable because it was designed that way, says Nushi. The benefits of using these tools can be far-reaching—from contributing to AI systems that more fairly assess candidates for loans by having comparable accuracy across demographic groups to traffic sign detectors in self-driving cars that can perform better across conditions like sun, snow, and rain.

Converting research into tools for responsible AI

Creating tools that can have the impact researchers like Nushi envision often begins with a research question and involves converting the resulting work into something people and teams can readily and confidently incorporate in their workflows.

“Making that jump from a research paper’s code on GitHub to something that is usable involves a lot more process in terms of understanding what is the interaction that the data scientist would need, what would make them more productive,” says Nushi. “In research, we come up with many ideas. Some of them are too fancy, so fancy that they cannot be used in the real world because they cannot be operationalized.”

Multidisciplinary research teams consisting of user experience researchers, designers, and machine learning and front-end engineers have helped ground the process as have the contributions of those who specialize in all things responsible AI. Microsoft Research works closely with the incubation team of Aether, the advisory body for Microsoft leadership on AI ethics and effects, to create tools based on the research. Equally important has been partnership with product teams whose mission is to operationalize AI responsibly, says Nushi. For Microsoft Research, that is often Azure Machine Learning, the Microsoft platform for end-to-end ML model development. Through this relationship, Azure Machine Learning can offer what Microsoft Principal PM Manager Mehrnoosh Sameki refers to as customer “signals,” essentially a reliable stream of practitioner wants and needs directly from practitioners on the ground. And, Azure Machine Learning is just as excited to leverage what Microsoft Research and Aether have to offer: cutting-edge science. The relationship has been fruitful.

As the current Azure Machine Learning platform made its debut five years ago, it was clear tooling for responsible AI was going to be necessary. In addition to aligning with the Microsoft vision for AI development, customers were seeking out such resources. They approached the Azure Machine Learning team with requests for explainability and interpretability features, robust model validation methods, and fairness assessment tools, recounts Sameki, who leads the Azure Machine Learning team in charge of tooling for responsible AI. Microsoft Research, Aether, and Azure Machine Learning teamed up to integrate tools for responsible AI into the platform, including InterpretML for understanding model behavior, Error Analysis for identifying data subsets for which failures are more likely, and Fairlearn for assessing and mitigating fairness-related issues. InterpretML and Fairlearn are independent community-driven projects that power several Responsible AI Toolbox functionalities.

Before long, Azure Machine Learning approached Microsoft Research with another signal: customers wanted to use the tools together, in one interface. The research team responded with an approach that enabled interoperability, allowing the tools to exchange data and insights, facilitating a seamless ML debugging experience. Over the course of two to three months, the teams met weekly to conceptualize and design “a single pane of glass” from which practitioners could use the tools collectively. As Azure Machine Learning developed the project, Microsoft Research stayed involved, from providing design expertise to contributing to how the story and capabilities of what had become Responsible AI dashboard would be communicated to customers.

After the release, the teams dived into the next open challenge: enabling practitioners to better mitigate failures. Enter the Responsible AI Mitigations Library and the Responsible AI Tracker, which were developed by Microsoft Research in collaboration with Aether. Microsoft Research was well-equipped with the resources and expertise to figure out the most effective visualizations for doing disaggregated model comparison (there was very little previous work available on it) and navigating the proper abstractions for the complexities of applying different mitigations to different subsets of data with a flexible, easy-to-use interface. Throughout the process, the Azure team provided insight into how the new tools fit into the existing infrastructure.

With the Azure team bringing practitioner needs and the platform to the table and research bringing the latest in model evaluation, responsible testing, and the like, it is the perfect fit, says Sameki.

An open-source approach to tooling for responsible AI

While making these tools available through Azure Machine Learning supports customers in bringing their products and services to market responsibly, making these tools open source is important to cultivating an even larger landscape of responsibly developed AI. When release ready, these tools for responsible AI are made open source and then integrated into the Azure Machine Learning platform. The reasons for going with an open-source-first approach are numerous, say Nushi and Sameki:

  • freely available tools for responsible AI are an educational resource for learning and teaching the practice of responsible AI;
  • more contributors, both internal to Microsoft and external, add quality, longevity, and excitement to the work and topic; and
  • the ability to integrate them into any platform or infrastructure encourages more widespread use.

The decision also represents one of the Microsoft AI principles in action—transparency.

photo of Mehrnoosh Sameki smiling for the camera

“In the space of responsible AI, being as open as possible is the way to go, and there are multiple reasons for that,” says Sameki. “The main reason is for building trust with the users and with the consumers of these tools. In my opinion, no one would trust a machine learning evaluation technique or an unfairness mitigation algorithm that is unclear and close source. Also, this field is very new. Innovating in the open nurtures better collaborations in the field.”

Mehrnoosh Sameki, Microsoft Principal PM Manager

Looking ahead

AI capabilities are only advancing. The larger research community, practitioners, the tech industry, government, and other institutions are working in different ways to steer these advancements in a direction in which AI is contributing value and its potential harms are minimized. Practices for responsible AI will need to continue to evolve with AI advancements to support these efforts.

For Microsoft researchers like Nushi and product managers like Sameki, that means fostering cross-company, multidisciplinary collaborations in their continued development of tools that encourage targeted model improvement guided by the step-by-step process of identification, diagnosis, mitigation, and comparison and validation—wherever those advances lead.

“As we get better in this, I hope we move toward a more systematic process to understand what data is actually useful, even for the large models; what is harmful that really shouldn’t be included in those; and what is the data that has a lot of ethical issues if you include it,” says Nushi. “Building AI responsibly is crosscutting, requiring perspectives and contributions from internal teams and external practitioners. Our growing collection of tools shows that effective collaboration has the potential to impact—for the better—how we create the new generation of AI systems.”

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Research Focus: Week of February 20, 2023

Research Focus: Week of February 20, 2023

Microsoft Research Focus 10 edition, week of February 20, 2023

Welcome to Research Focus, a new series of blog posts that highlights notable publications, events, code/datasets, new hires and other milestones from across the research community at Microsoft.


Self-supervised Multi-task pretrAining with contRol Transformers (SMART)

Many real-world applications require sequential decision making, where an agent interacts with a stochastic environment to perform a task. For example, a navigating robot is expected to control itself and move to a target using sensory information it receives along the way. Learning the proper control policy can be complicated by environmental uncertainty and high-dimensional perceptual information, such as raw-pixel spaces. More importantly, the learned strategy is specific to the task (e.g. which target to reach) and the agent (e.g., a two-leg robot or a four-leg robot). That means that a good strategy for one task does not necessarily apply to a new task or a different agent.

Pre-training a foundation model can help improve overall efficiency when facing a large variety of control tasks and agents. However, although foundation models have achieved incredible success in language domains, different control tasks and agents can have large discrepancies, making it challenging to find a universal foundation. It becomes even more challenging in real-world scenarios that lack supervision or high-quality behavior data.

In a new paper: SMART: Self-supervised Multi-task pretrAining with contRol Transformers, Microsoft researchers tackle these challenges and propose a generic pre-training framework for control problems. Their research demonstrates that a single pre-trained SMART model can be fine-tuned for various visual-control tasks and agents, either seen or unseen, with significantly improved performance and learning efficiency. SMART is also resilient to low-quality datasets and works well even when random behaviors comprise the pre-training data.

Spotlight: On-Demand EVENT

Microsoft Research Summit 2022

Watch now to learn about some of the most pressing questions facing our research community and listen in on conversations with 120+ researchers around how to ensure new technologies have the broadest possible benefit for humanity.


A Ranking Game for Imitation Learning

Reinforcement learning relies on environmental reward feedback to learn meaningful behaviors. Since reward specification is a hard problem, imitation learning (IL) may be used to bypass reward specification and learn from expert data, often via Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL) techniques.  In IL, while near-optimal expert data is very informative, it can be difficult to obtain. Even with infinite data, expert data cannot imply a total ordering over trajectories as preferences can. On the other hand, learning from preferences alone is challenging, as a large number of preferences are required to infer a high-dimensional reward function, though preference data is typically much easier to collect than expert demonstrations. The classical IRL formulation learns from expert demonstrations but provides no mechanism to incorporate learning from offline preferences.

In a new paper: A Ranking Game for Imitation Learning accepted at TMLR 2023, researchers from UT Austin, Microsoft Research, and UMass Amherst create a unified algorithmic framework for IRL that incorporates both expert and suboptimal information for imitation learning. They propose a new framework for imitation learning called “rank-game” which treats imitation as a two-player ranking-based game between a policy and a reward. In this game, the reward agent learns to satisfy pairwise performance rankings between behaviors, while the policy agent learns to maximize this reward. A novel ranking loss function is proposed, giving an algorithm that can simultaneously learn from expert demonstrations and preferences, gaining the advantages of both modalities. Experimental results in the paper show that the proposed method achieves state-of-the-art sample efficiency and can solve previously unsolvable tasks in the Learning from Observation (LfO) setting. Project video and code can be found on GitHub.

rank-game: The Policy agent maximizes the reward function by interacting with the environment. The Reward agent satisfies a set of behavior rankings obtained from various sources: generated by the policy agent (vanilla), automatically generated (auto), or offline annotated rankings obtained from a human or offline dataset (pref). Treating this game in the Stackelberg framework leads to either Policy being a leader and Reward being a follower, or vice versa.
Figure 1: rank-game: The Policy agent maximizes the reward function by interacting with the environment. The Reward agent satisfies a set of behavior rankings obtained from various sources: generated by the policy agent (vanilla), automatically generated (auto), or offline annotated rankings obtained from a human or offline dataset (pref). Treating this game in the Stackelberg framework leads to either Policy being a leader and Reward being a follower, or vice versa.


Microsoft helps GoodLeaf Farms drive agricultural innovation with data

Vertical indoor farming uses extensive technology to manage production and optimize growing conditions. This includes movement of grow benches, lighting, irrigation, and air and temperature controls. Data and analytics can help vertical farms produce the highest possible yields and quality.

Canadian vertical farm pioneer GoodLeaf Farms has announced a partnership with Microsoft and data and analytics firm Adastra to optimize crop production and quality. GoodLeaf has deployed Microsoft Azure Synapse Analytics and Microsoft Power Platform to utilize the vast amounts of data it collects.

GoodLeaf is also collaborating with Microsoft Research through Project FarmVibes, using GoodLeaf’s data to support research into controlled environment agriculture.

GoodLeaf’s farm in Guelph, Ontario, and two currently under construction in Calgary and Montreal, use a connected system of cameras and sensors to manage plant seeding, growing mediums, germination, temperature, humidity, nutrients, lighting, and air flow. Data science and analytics help the company grow microgreens and baby greens in Canada year-round, no matter the weather using a hydroponics system and specialized LED lights. 


Reinforcement Learning Open Source Fest

Proposals are now being accepted for Reinforcement Learning (RL) Open Source Fest 2023, a global online program that introduces students to open-source RL programs and software development. Our goal is to bring together a diverse group of students from around the world to help solve open-source RL problems and advance state-of-the-art research and development. The program produces open-source code written and released to benefit all.

Accepted students will join a four-month research project from May to August 2023, working virtually alongside researchers, data scientists, and engineers on the Microsoft Research New York City Real World Reinforcement Learning team. Students will also receive a $10,000 USD stipend. At the end of the program, students will present each of their projects to the Microsoft Research Real World Reinforcement Learning team online.

The proposal deadline is Monday, April 3, 2023, at 11:59 PM ET. Learn more and submit your proposal today.

The post Research Focus: Week of February 20, 2023 appeared first on Microsoft Research.

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Research Focus: Week of February 6, 2023

Research Focus: Week of February 6, 2023

Microsoft Research Focus 09 edition, week of February 6, 2023

Welcome to Research Focus, a new series of blog posts that highlights notable publications, events, code/datasets, new hires and other milestones from across the research community at Microsoft.

Behind the Tech podcast with Tobi Lütke: CEO and Founder, Shopify

In the latest episode of Behind the Tech, Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott is joined by Tobi Lütke, CEO and founder of the Canadian multinational e-commerce platform Shopify. Since his early days running an online snowboard shop from his carport, Tobi has envisioned himself as a craftsman first and a business exec second, a mindset he has used to solve a wide variety of problems. He and Kevin discuss applying computer science and engineering techniques to build and scale a company, the idea of bringing an ‘apprentice mindset’ to his work, and how Tobi’s daily practice of writing code and tinkering in his home lab inspires him to be a more creative leader.

Tune in now to enjoy the discussion.

Distribution inference risks: Identifying and mitigating sources of leakage

Distribution inference (or property inference) attacks allow an adversary to infer distributional information about the training data of a machine learning model, which can cause significant problems. For example, leaking distribution of sensitive attributes such as gender or race can create a serious privacy concern. This kind of attack has been shown to be feasible on different types of models and datasets. However, little attention has been given to identifying the potential causes of such leakages and to proposing mitigations.

A new paper, Distribution Inference Risks: Identifying and Mitigating Sources of Leakage, focuses on theoretically and empirically analyzing the sources of information leakage that allow an adversary to perpetrate distribution inference attacks. The researchers identified three sources of leakage: (1) memorizing specific information about the value of interest to the adversary; (2) wrong inductive bias of the model; and (3) finiteness of the training data. Next, based on their analysis, the researchers propose principled mitigation techniques against distribution inference attacks. Specifically, they demonstrate that causal learning techniques are more resilient to a particular type of distribution inference risk — distributional membership inference — than associative learning methods. And lastly, they present a formalization of distribution inference that allows for reasoning about more general adversaries than was previously possible.

Siva Kakarla wins Applied Networking Research Prize

Microsoft’s Siva Kakarla has been awarded an Applied Networking Research Prize for 2023 in recognition of his work on checking the correctness of nameservers. A senior researcher in the Networking Research Group of Microsoft Research, Kakarla was one of six people to receive this annual award from the Internet Research Task Force.

In their paper: SCALE: Automatically Finding RFC Compliance Bugs in DNS Nameservers, Kakarla and his colleagues introduce the first approach for finding RFC (request for comment) compliance errors in DNS nameserver implementations through automatic test generation. Their approach, called Small-scope Constraint-driven Automated Logical Execution, or SCALE, generates high-coverage tests for covering RFC behaviors.

The Applied Networking Research Prize acknowledges advances in applied networking, interesting new research ideas of potential relevance to the internet standards community, and people that are likely to have an impact on internet standards and technologies.

The post Research Focus: Week of February 6, 2023 appeared first on Microsoft Research.

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Research Focus: Week of January 23, 2023

Research Focus: Week of January 23, 2023

Microsoft Research Focus 08 edition, week of January 23

Welcome to Research Focus, a new series of blog posts that highlights notable publications, events, code/datasets, new hires and other milestones from across the research community at Microsoft.

Revolutionizing Document AI with multimodal document foundation models  

Organizations must digitize various documents, many with charts and images, to manage and streamline essential functions. Yet manually digitized documents are often of uneven quality, while web pages and electronic documents can come with multiple layouts.

Document AI technology is designed to efficiently extract, organize and analyze the information in different documents, freeing employees and companies from this repetitive and tedious work. The results are automated extraction, classification and understanding of information with rich typesetting formats from webpages, digital-born documents, or scanned documents, along with lower costs and reduced errors.

Microsoft Research Asia has been studying Document AI since 2019, working at the intersection of natural language processing and computer vision and using deep learning techniques. In their most recent work, researchers have developed new skills for Document AI, unveiled industry-leading models, and begun developing general-purpose and unified frameworks.

Tapping into Large Language Models with Microsoft’s Turing Academic Program

Large language models (LLMs) deliver impressive performance with difficult tasks and across various applications. As AI researchers explore LLMs, many questions persist. Answering these questions will require a range of different perspectives and proficiencies from experts from industry, research, and government.
To better understand opportunities and challenges with LLMs, Eric Horvitz, Microsoft’s Chief Scientific Officer, moderated a panel discussion “Towards a Healthy Research Ecosystem for Large Language Models.” Panelists included Ahmed Awadallah (Microsoft Research), Erwin Gianchandani (National Science Foundation), Percy Liang (Stanford University), and Saurabh Tiwary (Microsoft Turing).

A key theme of the panel was the need to expand access to LLMs, which requires large amounts of data and computing resources. The Microsoft Turing Academic Program (MS-TAP) supports this effort through multiple in-depth collaborations with partner universities.

You can learn more about MS-TAP and the panel discussion in this recent blog post.

Microsoft researchers named 2022 ACM Fellows

Three researchers from Microsoft were among the 57 Fellows named by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for fundamental contributions to computing technologies in 2022.

This award, which recognizes the top 1% of ACM members for accomplishments in computing and information technology and/or outstanding service to ACM and the larger computing community, was presented to the following Microsoft researchers:

Ranveer Chandra
For contributions to software-defined wireless networking and applications to agriculture and rural broadband

Marc Pollefeys
For contributions to geometric computer vision and applications to AR/VR/MR, robotics and autonomous vehicles

Jaime Teevan
For contributions to human-computer interaction, information retrieval, and productivity

The ACM Fellows program was launched in 1993. Candidates are nominated by their peers and then reviewed by a selection committee. ACM is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting educators, researchers, and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources, and address challenges.

The post Research Focus: Week of January 23, 2023 appeared first on Microsoft Research.

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Biomedical Research Platform Terra Now Available on Microsoft Azure

Biomedical Research Platform Terra Now Available on Microsoft Azure

Terra's logo on a black background with abstract DNA strand pattern

We stand at the threshold of a new era of precision medicine, where health and life sciences data hold the potential to dramatically propel and expand our understanding and treatment of human disease. One of the tools that we believe will help to enable precision medicine is Terra, the secure biomedical research platform co-developed by Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Microsoft, and Verily. Today, we are excited to share that Terra is available for preview on Microsoft Azure.

Starting today, any researcher can bring their data, access publicly available datasets, run analyses, and collaborate with others on Terra using Microsoft Azure. Learn more about accessing Terra and exploring its capabilities on the Terra blog.

By joining forces on Terra, the Broad Institute, Microsoft, and Verily are accelerating the next generation of collaborative biomedical research to positively impact health outcomes now and in the future. Terra’s cloud-based platform offers a secure, centralized location for biomedical research, connecting researchers to each other and to the datasets and tools they need to collaborate effectively, advance their work, and achieve scientific breakthroughs. Terra on Azure will also provide valuable support for enterprise organizations across industries. 

Terra on Azure is built to be enterprise-ready and natively supports single sign-on (SSO) with Azure Active Directory. Operating as platform as a service (PaaS), Terra deploys resources into an end-user’s Azure tenant, allowing customers to apply their Enterprise Agreements to their use of Terra and giving them more control over the cloud resources running in their environment as well as the different types of tools and data they can use within their Terra workspace.

Figure 1: Terra brings together components of the Microsoft Genomics and healthcare ecosystems to offer optimized, secure, and collaborative genomic research.
Figure 1: Terra brings together components of the Microsoft Genomics and healthcare ecosystems to offer optimized, secure, and collaborative biomedical research.

At Microsoft, with our focus on standards-driven data interoperability, we are building seamless connections between Terra and Azure Health Data Services to enable multi-modal data analysis—across clinical, genomics, imaging, and other modes—and to accelerate precision medicine research, discovery, development, and delivery. Terra on Azure can connect to other Azure services, allowing customers to draw on Azure innovations that are beneficial to biomedical analysis, such as those in Azure Confidential Computing for data privacy, Azure Synapse for data analytics, Azure Purview for data governance, and Azure ML for machine learning. 

How does the biomedical research community benefit from Terra?

Data and partnerships form the bedrock of biomedical research, but researchers often face significant challenges on the path to effective collaboration. Part of the challenge for data scientists and researchers is accessing large and diverse sample sizes. Although the volume and availability of data is increasing, silos are growing stronger as data becomes more globally distributed. Different regions and organizations have their own unique data access policies, making access to data nearly impossible and collaboration a sometimes daunting challenge.

Terra powers research collaborations within and across organizational boundaries by giving researchers and data stewards new tools and capabilities to help them overcome those challenges and achieve their goals. As a biomedical research platform, Terra provides a foundation for data stewards to manage dataset access and use policies across the research lifecycle, and it enables researchers to access, build, and analyze larger datasets much faster.

Figure 2: Terra is built to support researchers and data custodians.
Figure 2: Terra is built to support researchers and data custodians.

Through Terra on Azure, researchers can operate in secure environments purpose-built for health and life sciences; retrieve and examine public, controlled-access, and private data; reproduce analyses; and share hypotheses and analysis results. Analyses are performed within a security perimeter that enables data-access and data-use policies and compliance standards to be met.

How does Terra on Azure advance Health Futures’ goals?

Microsoft Health Futures is focused on empowering every person on the planet to live healthier lives and create a healthier future. We are responsible for research, incubations, and moonshots that drive cross-company strategy to support that goal. We believe the future of medicine is data-driven, predictive, and precise. Yet one of the major barriers to scientific discovery is access to data—at scale, longitudinally, and in multiple modalities.

Innovation within the life sciences is a core Health Futures priority, and we partner with leading organizations to advance and build infrastructure for emerging precision health modalities, including genomics, immunomics, and beyond. The Terra collaboration is a key piece of this broader priority and sets the foundation to scale real-world impact through our customers, partners, and the life sciences ecosystem.

It is an honor to partner with the Broad Institute and Verily to help researchers around the world understand and treat our toughest human diseases. Terra is a powerful platform that will enhance biomedical research collaboration and scientific exploration for the betterment of humankind.

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Advancing human-centered AI: Updates on responsible AI research

Advancing human-centered AI: Updates on responsible AI research

Editor’s note: All papers referenced here represent collaborations throughout Microsoft and across academia and industry that include authors who contribute to Aether, the Microsoft internal advisory body for AI Ethics and Effects in Engineering and Research.

illustration of a lightbulb shape with different icons surrounding it on a purple background

  • Video frame with an image of hands reaching upward and overlaid with the question


    A human-centered approach to AI 

    Learn how considering potential benefits and harms to people and society helps create better AI in the keynote “Challenges and opportunities in responsible AI” (2022 ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval).

Artificial intelligence, like all tools we build, is an expression of human creativity. As with all creative expression, AI manifests the perspectives and values of its creators. A stance that encourages reflexivity among AI practitioners is a step toward ensuring that AI systems are human-centered, developed and deployed with the interests and well-being of individuals and society front and center. This is the focus of research scientists and engineers affiliated with Aether, the advisory body for Microsoft leadership on AI ethics and effects. Central to Aether’s work is the question of who we’re creating AI for—and whether we’re creating AI to solve real problems with responsible solutions. With AI capabilities accelerating, our researchers work to understand the sociotechnical implications and find ways to help on-the-ground practitioners envision and realize these capabilities in line with Microsoft AI principles.

The following is a glimpse into the past year’s research for advancing responsible AI with authors from Aether. Throughout this work are repeated calls for reflexivity in AI practitioners’ processes—that is, self-reflection to help us achieve clarity about who we’re developing AI systems for, who benefits, and who may potentially be harmed—and for tools that help practitioners with the hard work of uncovering assumptions that may hinder the potential of human-centered AI. The research discussed here also explores critical components of responsible AI, such as being transparent about technology limitations, honoring the values of the people using the technology, enabling human agency for optimal human-AI teamwork, improving effective interaction with AI, and developing appropriate evaluation and risk-mitigation techniques for multimodal machine learning (ML) models.

Considering who AI systems are for

The need to cultivate broader perspectives and, for society’s benefit, reflect on why and for whom we’re creating AI is not only the responsibility of AI development teams but also of the AI research community. In the paper “REAL ML: Recognizing, Exploring, and Articulating Limitations of Machine Learning Research,” the authors point out that machine learning publishing often exhibits a bias toward emphasizing exciting progress, which tends to propagate misleading expectations about AI. They urge reflexivity on the limitations of ML research to promote transparency about findings’ generalizability and potential impact on society—ultimately, an exercise in reflecting on who we’re creating AI for. The paper offers a set of guided activities designed to help articulate research limitations, encouraging the machine learning research community toward a standard practice of transparency about the scope and impact of their work.

Graphic incorporating photos of a researcher sitting with a laptop and using the REAL ML tool, reflecting on research limitations to foster scientific progress, and a bird’s eye view of a cityscape at night.

Walk through REAL ML’s instructional guide and worksheet that help researchers with defining the limitations of their research and identifying societal implications these limitations may have in the practical use of their work.

Despite many organizations formulating principles to guide the responsible development and deployment of AI, a recent survey highlights that there’s a gap between the values prioritized by AI practitioners and those of the general public. The survey, which included a representative sample of the US population, found AI practitioners often gave less weight than the general public to values associated with responsible AI. This raises the question of whose values should inform AI systems and shifts attention toward considering the values of the people we’re designing for, aiming for AI systems that are better aligned with people’s needs.

Related papers

Creating AI that empowers human agency

Supporting human agency and emphasizing transparency in AI systems are proven approaches to building appropriate trust with the people systems are designed to help. In human-AI teamwork, interactive visualization tools can enable people to capitalize on their own domain expertise and let them easily edit state-of-the-art models. For example, physicians using GAM Changer can edit risk prediction models for pneumonia and sepsis to incorporate their own clinical knowledge and make better treatment decisions for patients.

A study examining how AI can improve the value of rapidly growing citizen-science contributions found that emphasizing human agency and transparency increased productivity in an online workflow where volunteers provide valuable information to help AI classify galaxies. When choosing to opt in to using the new workflow and receiving messages that stressed human assistance was necessary for difficult classification tasks, participants were more productive without sacrificing the quality of their input and they returned to volunteer more often.

Failures are inevitable in AI because no model that interacts with the ever-changing physical world can be complete. Human input and feedback are essential to reducing risks. Investigating reliability and safety mitigations for systems such as robotic box pushing and autonomous driving, researchers formalize the problem of negative side effects (NSEs), the undesirable behavior of these systems. The researchers experimented with a framework in which the AI system uses immediate human assistance in the form of feedback—either about the user’s tolerance for an NSE occurrence or their decision to modify the environment. Results demonstrate that AI systems can adapt to successfully mitigate NSEs from feedback, but among future considerations, there remains the challenge of developing techniques for collecting accurate feedback from individuals using the system.

The goal of optimizing human-AI complementarity highlights the importance of engaging human agency. In a large-scale study examining how bias in models influences humans’ decisions in a job recruiting task, researchers made a surprising discovery: when working with a black-box deep neural network (DNN) recommender system, people made significantly fewer gender-biased decisions than when working with a bag-of-words (BOW) model, which is perceived as more interpretable. This suggests that people tend to reflect and rely on their own judgment before accepting a recommendation from a system for which they can’t comfortably form a mental model of how its outputs are derived. Researchers call for exploring techniques to better engage human reflexivity when working with advanced algorithms, which can be a means for improving hybrid human-AI decision-making and mitigating bias. 

How we design human-AI interaction is key to complementarity and empowering human agency. We need to carefully plan how people will interact with AI systems that are stochastic in nature and present inherently different challenges than deterministic systems. Designing and testing human interaction with AI systems as early as possible in the development process, even before teams invest in engineering, can help avoid costly failures and redesign. Toward this goal, researchers propose early testing of human-AI interaction through factorial surveys, a method from the social sciences that uses short narratives for deriving insights about people’s perceptions.

But testing for optimal user experience before teams invest in engineering can be challenging for AI-based features that change over time. The ongoing nature of a person adapting to a constantly updating AI feature makes it difficult to observe user behavior patterns that can inform design improvements before deploying a system. However, experiments demonstrate the potential of HINT (Human-AI INtegration Testing), a framework for uncovering over-time patterns in user behavior during pre-deployment testing. Using HINT, practitioners can design test setup, collect data via a crowdsourced workflow, and generate reports of user-centered and offline metrics.

Graphic of bridging HCI and NLP for empowering human agency with images of people using chatbots.

Check out the 2022 anthology of this annual workshop that brings human-computer interaction (HCI) and natural language processing (NLP) research together for improving how people can benefit from NLP apps they use daily.

Related papers

Building responsible AI tools for foundation models

Although we’re still in the early stages of understanding how to responsibly harness the potential of large language and multimodal models that can be used as foundations for building a variety of AI-based systems, researchers are developing promising tools and evaluation techniques to help on-the-ground practitioners deliver responsible AI. The reflexivity and resources required for deploying these new capabilities with a human-centered approach are fundamentally compatible with business goals of robust services and products.

Natural language generation with open-ended vocabulary has sparked a lot of imagination in product teams. Challenges persist, however, including for improving toxic language detection; content moderation tools often over-flag content that mentions minority groups without respect to context while missing implicit toxicity. To help address this, a new large-scale machine-generated dataset, ToxiGen, enables practitioners to fine-tune pretrained hate classifiers for improving detection of implicit toxicity for 13 minority groups in both human- and machine-generated text.

Graphic for ToxiGen dataset for improving toxic language detection with images of diverse demographic groups of people in discussion and on smartphone.

Download the large-scale machine-generated ToxiGen dataset and install source code for fine-tuning toxic language detection systems for adversarial and implicit hate speech for 13 demographic minority groups. Intended for research purposes.

Multimodal models are proliferating, such as those that combine natural language generation with computer vision for services like image captioning. These complex systems can surface harmful societal biases in their output and are challenging to evaluate for mitigating harms. Using a state-of-the-art image captioning service with two popular image-captioning datasets, researchers isolate where in the system fairness-related harms originate and present multiple measurement techniques for five specific types of representational harm: denying people the opportunity to self-identify, reifying social groups, stereotyping, erasing, and demeaning.

The commercial advent of AI-powered code generators has introduced novice developers alongside professionals to large language model (LLM)-assisted programming. An overview of the LLM-assisted programming experience reveals unique considerations. Programming with LLMs invites comparison to related ways of programming, such as search, compilation, and pair programming. While there are indeed similarities, the empirical reports suggest it is a distinct way of programming with its own unique blend of behaviors. For example, additional effort is required to craft prompts that generate the desired code, and programmers must check the suggested code for correctness, reliability, safety, and security. Still, a user study examining what programmers value in AI code generation shows that programmers do find value in suggested code because it’s easy to edit, increasing productivity. Researchers propose a hybrid metric that combines functional correctness and similarity-based metrics to best capture what programmers value in LLM-assisted programming, because human judgment should determine how a technology can best serve us.

Related papers

Understanding and supporting AI practitioners

Organizational culture and business goals can often be at odds with what practitioners need for mitigating fairness and other responsible AI issues when their systems are deployed at scale. Responsible, human-centered AI requires a thoughtful approach: just because a technology is technically feasible does not mean it should be created.

Similarly, just because a dataset is available doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use. Knowing why and how a dataset was created is crucial for helping AI practitioners decide on whether it should be used for their purposes and what its implications are for fairness, reliability, safety, and privacy. A study focusing on how AI practitioners approach datasets and documentation reveals current practices are informal and inconsistent. It points to the need for data documentation frameworks designed to fit within practitioners’ existing workflows and that make clear the responsible AI implications of using a dataset. Based on these findings, researchers iterated on Datasheets for Datasets and proposed the revised Aether Data Documentation Template.

Graphic for the Aether Data Documentation Template for promoting reflexivity and transparency with bird’s eye view of pedestrians at busy crosswalks and a close-up of hands typing on a computer keyboard.

Use this flexible template to reflect and help document underlying assumptions, potential risks, and implications of using your dataset.

AI practitioners find themselves balancing the pressures of delivering to meet business goals and the time requirements necessary for the responsible development and evaluation of AI systems. Examining these tensions across three technology companies, researchers conducted interviews and workshops to learn what practitioners need for measuring and mitigating AI fairness issues amid time pressure to release AI-infused products to wider geographic markets and for more diverse groups of people. Participants disclosed challenges in collecting appropriate datasets and finding the right metrics for evaluating how fairly their system will perform when they can’t identify direct stakeholders and demographic groups who will be affected by the AI system in rapidly broadening markets. For example, hate speech detection may not be adequate across cultures or languages. A look at what goes into AI practitioners’ decisions around what, when, and how to evaluate AI systems that use natural language generation (NLG) further emphasizes that when practitioners don’t have clarity about deployment settings, they’re limited in projecting failures that could cause individual or societal harm. Beyond concerns for detecting toxic speech, other issues of fairness and inclusiveness—for example, erasure of minority groups’ distinctive linguistic expression—are rarely a consideration in practitioners’ evaluations.

Coping with time constraints and competing business objectives is a reality for teams deploying AI systems. There are many opportunities for developing integrated tools that can prompt AI practitioners to think through potential risks and mitigations for sociotechnical systems.

Related papers

Thinking about it: Reflexivity as an essential for society and industry goals

As we continue to envision what all is possible with AI’s potential, one thing is clear: developing AI designed with the needs of people in mind requires reflexivity. We have been thinking about human-centered AI as being focused on users and stakeholders. Understanding who we are designing for, empowering human agency, improving human-AI interaction, and developing harm mitigation tools and techniques are as important as ever. But we also need to turn a mirror toward ourselves as AI creators. What values and assumptions do we bring to the table? Whose values get to be included and whose are left out? How do these values and assumptions influence what we build, how we build, and for whom? How can we navigate complex and demanding organizational pressures as we endeavor to create responsible AI? With technologies as powerful as AI, we can’t afford to be focused solely on progress for its own sake. While we work to evolve AI technologies at a fast pace, we need to pause and reflect on what it is that we are advancing—and for whom.

The post Advancing human-centered AI: Updates on responsible AI research appeared first on Microsoft Research.

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Research Focus: Week of January 9, 2023

Research Focus: Week of January 9, 2023

Research Focus 07 - Week of January 9th, 2023

Welcome to Research Focus, a new series of blog posts that highlights notable publications, events, code/datasets, new hires and other milestones from across the research community at Microsoft.

High-throughput ab initio reaction mechanism exploration in the cloud with automated multi-reference validation

Jan P. Unsleber, Hongbin Liu, Leopold Talirz, Thomas Weymuth, Maximilian Mörchen, Adam Grofe, Dave Wecker, Christopher J. Stein, Ajay Panyala, Bo Peng, Karol Kowalski, Matthias Troyer, Markus Reiher

Quantum chemical calculations on atomistic systems have evolved into a standard approach to studying molecular matter. These calculations often involve a significant amount of manual input and specific process considerations, which could be automated and allow for further efficiencies. In our recent paper: High-throughput ab initio reaction mechanism exploration in the cloud with automated multi-reference validation, we present the AutoRXN workflow, an automated workflow for exploratory high-throughput electronic structure calculations of molecular systems. In this workflow, (i) density functional theory methods are exploited to deliver minimum and transition-state structures and corresponding energies and properties, (ii) coupled cluster calculations are then launched for optimized structures to provide more accurate energy and property estimates, and (iii) multi-reference diagnostics are evaluated to back check the coupled cluster results and subject them to automated multi-configurational calculations for potential multi-configurational cases. All calculations are carried out in a cloud environment and support massive computational campaigns. Key features of all components of the AutoRXN workflow are autonomy, stability, and minimum operator interference. We highlight the AutoRXN workflow at the example of an autonomous reaction mechanism exploration of the mode of action of a homogeneous catalyst for the asymmetric reduction of ketones.

Spotlight: On-Demand EVENT

Microsoft Research Summit 2022

Watch now to learn about some of the most pressing questions facing our research community and listen in on conversations with 120+ researchers around how to ensure new technologies have the broadest possible benefit for humanity.

Disparate Impacts on Online Information Access during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jina Suh, Eric Horvitz, Ryen W. White, Tim Althoff

Despite efforts to close the long-term and emergent health equity gap, studies during the COVID-19 pandemic show that socioeconomically and environmentally disadvantaged subpopulations have been disproportionately harmed by the disease[1]. Digital access to health services and information has also emerged as an important factor modulating health outcomes. During the pandemic, digital engagement in resources across health, educational, economic, and social needs became a necessity due to lockdown mandates and increased use of internet-based communication by public institutions. Unfortunately, disparities in digital access also reflect socioeconomic and environmental dimensions, which can lead to negative offline consequences, creating a “digital vicious cycle”[2]. Therefore, it is a public health priority to identify vulnerable populations and to understand potential barriers to critical digital resources.

In a new paper: Disparate Impacts on Online Information Access during the COVID-19 Pandemic, published in Nature Communications, researchers from Microsoft Research and the University of Washington have collaborated to harness the centrality of web search engines for online information access to observe digital disparities during the pandemic. They analyzed over 55 billion web search interactions on Bing during the pandemic across 25,150 U.S. ZIP codes to reveal that socioeconomic and environmental factors are associated with the differential use of digital resources across different communities – even if they were digitally connected.

DeepSpeed Data Efficiency library: Towards less data, faster training, and higher model quality

DeepSpeed Team, Andrey Proskurin

DeepSpeed has released a new Data Efficiency library to optimize deep learning training efficiency and cost. The library offers new algorithms on efficient data sampling/scheduling via curriculum learning and efficient data routing via random layerwise token dropping, together with composable and customizable library support. The library greatly reduces training cost while maintaining model quality (1.5-2x less data and time for GPT-3/BERT pretraining), or further improves model quality under the same training cost (>1 point gain for GPT-3-1.3B zero/few-shot evaluation). The code is open-sourced at

You can learn more in our blog post and in the papers below.

Research Fellows Program at Microsoft Research India – Apply now

The Research Fellows Program at Microsoft Research India is now accepting applications for Fall 2023. This is an opportunity to work with world-class researchers on state-of-the-art technology. The program prepares students for careers in research, engineering, and entrepreneurship, while pushing the frontiers of computer science and technology. Previous Research Fellows have contributed to all aspects of the research lifecycle, spanning ideation, implementation, evaluation, and deployment.

Selected candidates spend one to two years with Microsoft Research India. Candidates should have completed BS/BE/BTech or MS/ME/MTech in Computer Science or related areas, graduating by summer 2023. Apply before February 3, 2023.

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Research @ Microsoft 2022: A look back at a year of accelerating progress in AI

Research @ Microsoft 2022: A look back at a year of accelerating progress in AI

2022 Microsoft Research - Year in review graphic

2022 has seen remarkable progress in foundational technologies that have helped to advance human knowledge and create new possibilities to address some of society’s most challenging problems. Significant advances in AI have also enabled Microsoft to bring new capabilities to customers through our products and services, including GitHub Copilot, an AI pair programmer capable of turning natural language prompts into code, and a preview of Microsoft Designer, a graphic design app that supports the creation of social media posts, invitations, posters, and one-of-a-kind images.

These offerings provide an early glimpse of how new AI capabilities, such as large language models, can enable people to interact with machines in increasingly powerful ways. They build on a significant, long-term commitment to fundamental research in computing and across the sciences, and the research community at Microsoft plays an integral role in advancing the state of the art in AI, while working closely with engineering teams and other partners to transform that progress into tangible benefits.

In 2022, Microsoft Research established AI4Science, a global organization applying the latest advances in AI and machine learning toward fundamentally transforming science; added to and expanded the capabilities of the company’s family of foundation models; worked to make these models and technologies more adaptable, collaborative, and efficient; further developed approaches to ensure that AI is used responsibly and in alignment with human needs; and pursued different approaches to AI, such as causal machine learning and reinforcement learning.

We shared our advances across AI and many other disciplines during our second annual Microsoft Research Summit, where members of our research community gathered virtually with their counterparts across industry and academia to discuss how emerging technologies are being explored and deployed to bring the greatest possible benefits to humanity.  

Plenary sessions at the event focused on the transformational impact of deep learning on the way we practice science, research that empowers medical practitioners and reduces inequities in healthcare, and emerging foundations for planet-scale computing. Further tracks and sessions over three days provided deeper dives into the future of the cloud; efficient large-scale AI; amplifying human productivity and creativity; delivering precision healthcare; building user trust through privacy, identity, and responsible AI; and enabling a resilient and sustainable world.

  • Blog

    Microsoft Climate Research Initiative (MCRI) 

    In June, the Microsoft Climate Research Initiative (MCRI) announced its first phase of collaborations among multidisciplinary researchers working together to accelerate cutting-edge research and transformative innovation in climate science and technology.

  • Publication

    New Future of Work Report 2022 

    In May, researchers across Microsoft published the New Future of Work Report 2022, which summarizes important recent research developments related to hybrid work. It highlights themes that have emerged in the findings of the past year and resurfaces older research that has become newly relevant.

In this blog post, we look back at some of the key achievements and notable work in AI and highlight other advances across our diverse, multidisciplinary, and global organization.

Advancing AI foundations and accelerating progress

Over the past year, the research community at Microsoft made significant contributions to the rapidly evolving landscape of powerful large-scale AI models. Microsoft Research and the Microsoft Turing team unveiled a new Turing Universal Language Representation model capable of performing both English and multilingual understanding tasks. In computer vision, advancements for the Project Florence-VL (Florence-Vision and Language) team spanned still imagery and video: its GIT model was the first to surpass human performance on the image captioning benchmark TextCaps; LAVENDER showed strong performance in video question answering, text-to-video retrieval, and video captioning; and GLIP and GLIPv2 combined localization and vision-language understanding. The group also introduced NUWA-Infinity, a model capable of converting text, images, and video into high-resolution images or long-duration video. Meanwhile, the Visual Computing Group scaled up its Transformer-based general-purpose computer vision architecture, Swin Transformer, achieving applicability across more vision tasks than ever before.

Researchers from Microsoft Research Asia and the Microsoft Turing team also introduced BEiT-3, a general-purpose multimodal foundation model that achieves state-of-the-art transfer performance on both vision and vision-language tasks. In BEiT-3, researchers introduce Multiway Transformers for general-purpose modeling, where the modular architecture enables both deep fusion and modality-specific encoding. Based on the shared backbone, BEiT-3 performs masked “language” modeling on images (Imglish), texts (English), and image-text pairs (“parallel sentences”) in a unified manner. The code and pretrained models will be available at GitHub.

One of the most crucial accelerators of progress in AI is the ability to optimize training and inference for large-scale models. In 2022, the DeepSpeed team made a number of breakthroughs to improve mixture of experts (MoE) models, making them more efficient, faster, and less costly. Specifically, they were able to reduce training cost by 5x, reduce MoE parameter size by up to 3.7x, and reduce MoE inference latency by 7.3x while offering up to 4.5x faster and 9x cheaper inference for MoE models compared to quality-equivalent dense models.

Transforming scientific discovery and adding societal value

Our ability to comprehend and reason about the natural world has advanced over time, and the new AI4Science organization, announced in July, represents another turn in the evolution of scientific discovery. Machine learning is already being used in the natural sciences to model physical systems using observational data. AI4Science aims to dramatically accelerate our ability to model and predict natural phenomena by creating deep learning emulators that learn by using computational solutions to fundamental equations as training data.

This new paradigm can help scientists gain greater insight into natural phenomena, right down to their smallest components. Such molecular understanding and powerful computational tools can help accelerate the discovery of new materials to combat climate change, and new drugs to help support the prevention and treatment of disease.  

For instance, AI4Science’s Project Carbonix is working on globally accessible, at-scale solutions for decarbonizing the world economy, including reverse engineering materials that can pull carbon out of the environment and recycling carbon into materials. Collaborating on these efforts through the Microsoft Climate Research Initiative (MCRI) are domain experts from academia, industry, and government. Announced in June, MCRI is focused on areas such as carbon accounting, climate risk assessments, and decarbonization.

As part of the Generative Chemistry project, Microsoft researchers have been working with the global medicines company Novartis to develop and execute machine learning tools and human-in-the-loop approaches to enhance the entire drug discovery process. In April, they introduced MoLeR, a graph-based generative model for designing compounds that is more reflective of how chemists think about the process and is more efficient and practical than an earlier generative model the team developed. 

While AI4Science is focused on computational simulation, we have seen with projects like InnerEye that AI can have societal value in many other ways. In March, Microsoft acquired Nuance Communications Inc., further cementing the companies’ shared commitment to outcome-based AI across industries, particularly in healthcare. Tools like the integration of Microsoft Teams and Dragon Ambient eXperience (Nuance DAX) to help ease the administrative burden of physicians and support meaningful doctor-patient interactions are already making a difference.

Making AI more adaptable, collaborative, and efficient 

To help accelerate the capabilities of large-scale AI while building a landscape in which everyone can benefit from it, the research community at Microsoft aimed to drive progress in three areas: adaptability, collaboration, and efficiency.

To provide consistent value, AI systems must respond to changes in task and environment. Research in this area includes multi-task learning with task-aware routing of inputs, knowledge-infused decoding, model repurposing with data-centric ML, pruning and cognitive science or brain-inspired AI. A good example of our work toward adaptability is GODEL, or Grounded Open DialogueLanguage Model, which ushers in a new class of pretrained language models that enable chatbots to help with tasks and then engage in more general conversations.  

Microsoft’s research into more collaborative AI includes AdaTest, which leverages human expertise alongside the generative power of large language models to help people more efficiently find and correct bugs in natural language processing models. Researchers have also explored expanding the use of AI in creative processes, including a project in which science fiction writer Gabrielle Loisel used OpenAI’s GPT-3 to co-author a novella and other stories

To enable more people to make use of AI in an efficient and sustainable way, Microsoft researchers are pursuing several new architectures and training paradigms. This includes new modular architectures and novel techniques, such as DeepSpeed Compression, a composable library for extreme compression and zero-cost quantization, and Z-Code Mixture of Experts models, which boost translation efficiency and were deployed in Microsoft Translator in 2022.  

In December, researchers unveiled AutoDistil, a new technique that leverages knowledge distillation and neural architecture search to improve the balance between cost and performance when generating compressed models. They also introduced AdaMix, which improves the fine-tuning of large pretrained models for downstream tasks using mixture of adaptations modules for parameter-efficient model tuning. And vision-language model compression research on the lottery ticket hypothesis showed that pretrained language models can be significantly compressed without hurting their performance.

  • Blog

    Infusing AI into cloud computing systems 

    Cloud Intelligence/AIOps is a rapidly emerging technology trend and an interdisciplinary research direction across system, software engineering, and AI/ML communities. In this blog post from November, the researchers behind Microsoft’s AIOps work outline a research vision to make the cloud more autonomous, proactive, and manageable.

Building and deploying AI responsibly

Building AI that maximizes its benefit to humanity, and does so equitably, requires considering both the opportunities and risks that come with each new advancement in line with our guiding principles: fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability.

Helping to put these principles into practice is Microsoft’s Responsible AI Standard, which the company made publicly available in June. The standard comprises tools and steps that AI practitioners can execute in their workflows today to help ensure that building AI responsibly is baked into every stage of development. These standards will evolve as the tools and resources to responsibly build AI evolve in response to the rapid pace of AI advancement, particularly pertaining to the growing size of AI models and the new challenges they bring

With FedKD and InclusiveFL, researchers tackled some of the obstacles in applying federated learning, an ML method for protecting privacy, to model training. Two separate teams explored solutions for the harmful language that large generative models can reproduce—one presenting a unified framework for both detoxifying and debiasing models and another introducing methods for making content moderation tools more robust. Meanwhile, researchers sought to strengthen human-AI collaboration by giving users more insight into how models arrive at their outputs via explanations provided by the models themselves.

The responsible development of AI also means deploying technologies that operate the way they were designed to—and the way people expect them to. In a pair of blog posts, researchers draw on their respective experiences developing a technology to support social agency in children who are born blind and another to support mental health practitioners in guiding patient treatment to stress the need for multiple measures of performance in determining the readiness of increasingly complex AI systems and the incorporation of domain experts and user research throughout the development process.

Advancing AI for decision making

Building the next generation of AI requires continuous research into fundamental new AI innovations. Two significant areas of study in 2022 were causal ML and reinforcement learning.

Causal ML

Identifying causal effects is an integral part of scientific inquiry. It helps us understand everything from educational outcomes to the effects of social policies to risk factors for diseases. Questions of cause and effect are also critical for the design and data-driven evaluation of many technological systems we build today.  

This year, Microsoft Research continued its work on causal ML, which combines traditional machine learning with causal inference methods. To help data scientists better understand and deploy causal inference, Microsoft researchers built the DoWhy library, an end-to-end causal inference tool, in 2018. To broaden access to this critical knowledge base, DoWhy has now migrated to an independent open-source governance model in a new PyWhy GitHub organization. As part of this new collaborative model, Amazon Web Services is contributing new technology based on structural causal models.

At this year’s Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), researchers presented a suite of open-source causal tools and libraries that aims to simultaneously provide core causal AI functionality to practitioners and create a platform for research advances to be rapidly deployed. This includes ShowWhy, a no-code user interface suite that empowers domain experts to become decision scientists. We hope that our work accelerates use-inspired basic research for improvement of causal AI.

Reinforcement learning (RL)

Reinforcement learning is a powerful tool for learning which behaviors are likely to produce the best outcomes in a given scenario, typically through trial and error. But this powerful tool faces some challenges. Trial and error can consume enormous resources when applied to large datasets. And for many real-time applications, there’s no room to learn from mistakes.   

To address RL’s computational bottleneck, Microsoft researchers developed Path Predictive Elimination, a reinforcement learning method that is robust enough to remove noise from continuously changing environments. Also in 2022, a Microsoft team released MoCapAct, a library of pretrained simulated models to enable advanced research on artificial humanoid control at a fraction of the compute resources currently required.  

Researchers also developed a new method for using offline RL to augment human-designed strategies for making critical decisions. This team deployed game theory to design algorithms that can use existing data to learn policies that improve on current strategies.

Readers’ choice: Notable blog posts for 2022 

Thank you for reading

2022 was an exciting year for research, and we look forward to the future breakthroughs our global research community will deliver. In the coming year, you can expect to hear more from us about our vision, and the impact we hope to achieve. We appreciate the opportunity to share our work with you, and we hope you will subscribe to the Microsoft Research Newsletter for the latest developments.

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Microsoft Soundscape – New Horizons with a Community-Driven Approach

For more than six years, Microsoft Research has been honored to develop the Soundscape research project, which was designed to deliver information about a person’s location and points of interest and has guided individuals to desired places and in unfamiliar spaces using augmented-reality and three-dimensional audio. While not a traditional turn-by-turn navigation mobile app, the Soundscape research project allowed us to explore ways that audio can enhance mobility and expand navigation experiences without the need to follow directions on a small display.

Beginning January 3, 2023, the Soundscape code will be available as open-source software, so that anyone can continue to build on, and find new ways to leverage, this novel feature set for the growing navigation opportunities in today’s world. As Microsoft Research continues to expand into new accessibility innovation areas, we hope the open-source software release of the Soundscape code supports the community in further developing confidence and utility of spatial audio navigation experiences.

Also on January 3, 2023, the Microsoft Soundscape iOS app will no longer be available for download from the App Store, although existing installations can continue to be used until the end of June 2023. We are grateful to all of those who have tried and found value in the Microsoft Soundscape app and appreciate all the feedback and stories you have shared with us over the years.

Through the Microsoft Soundscape journey, we were delighted to discover the many valuable experiences Soundscape enabled, from empowering mobility instructors, to understanding the role of audio in adaptive sports, to supporting blind or low-vision individuals to go places and do essential activities for their lives. By making the Soundscape code available as open-source software, we hope the interest and potential continues to grow. Documentation on how to build and use the system from the new GitHub Soundscape page will be shared on January 3, 2023.

Frequently asked questions on Soundscape

Q: What is changing for Microsoft Soundscape?
A: It is now time to transition the Soundscape research project to the next phase, where we will share it to allow for broader development. Soundscape code will be available on GitHub as open-source software on January 3, 2023.

Q: What will happen to the Microsoft Soundscape app on iOS?
A: As of January 3, 2023, the app will not be available for download. Existing installations can continue to be used until the end of June 2023.

Q: Will the Azure services that enable the Microsoft Soundscape app continue to be supported?
A: Yes, until the end of June 2023. Beyond that, entities can build new cloud-based services from our open-source release.

Q: Will user feedback on the Microsoft Soundscape app continue to work?
A: Yes, until the end of June 2023. We will focus on bug fixes and repairing service disruptions, but we will not address requests for new features or capabilities.

Q: Will the Soundscape open-source release run only on iOS, or will it also support Android?
A: The original Microsoft Soundscape app only supports iOS, and that is also true for the open-source release.

Q: Why has Microsoft Research decided to release Soundscape as open-source?
A: As we evolve our research portfolio, it is natural to end or transition some projects. We feel the community can benefit from the novel experiences we developed for the Soundscape research project, and that is why we are releasing the code as open-source software.

Q: What will happen to the Microsoft Soundscape Authoring app?
A: Use of the Microsoft Soundscape Authoring app will end on January 17, 2023.

Q: Are other Microsoft offerings implicated in this change for Soundscape or following a similar path at this time?
A: No, this change is specific to Soundscape. There is no impact or implication on other Microsoft offerings.

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