The University of Massachusetts Amherst

DACSS - Microsoft Technology Center field trip

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Students in the Data Analytics and Computational Social Science program (DACSS) had the opportunity to tour the Microsoft Technology Center to introduce them to the current work being done in the industry. Led by Tim Baggs (Principal Technology Architect), Bob Familiar (MTC Director), and Craig Dillon (World Wide Lead, Microsoft Technology Centers), the tour introduced students to Microsoft’s work in innovation and sustainability, while also showing them Microsoft’s culture and employment opportunities.

Baggs began by discussing the innovation Microsoft is working on. Beginning with Microsoft’s mission statement, “Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more”, Baggs explained how important innovation was to the organization. “How do we make things easier, faster, and more integrated?”

Baggs noted that there were three main things that drive innovation at Microsoft: Meaning, Application, and Responsibility. He noted that they have two approaches to their innovation work, practical and visionary. Baggs introduced Project Iris and Project Silica, a representation of practical and visionary work respectively. Project Iris is working on creating “novel designs of regional and Wide Area (WAN) cloud networks from the ground-up motivated by the rapid growth of cloud network traffic across data centers.” Project Silica is looking to create massive storage facilities for data, etched into small squares of silica. 

Baggs also talked about Microsoft research where they are “turning ideas into reality.” Currently, Microsoft operates 8 MSR labs, employs 1,000+ researchers in 20+ fields, holds 4,000+ worldwide patents, and has 22,000+ papers. He highlighted the company’s hackathon, where over 70,000 Microsoft employees take a day to develop new ideas and products. 

Finally, Baggs introduced two new products, Seeing AI and Microsoft Premonition. Seeing AI is an app that provides human-parity for identifying objects, speech recognition, reading comprehension, machine translation, speech synthesis, and captioning. He demonstrated it by placing the camera on Familiar, where the app noted a “59-year-old man wearing glasses.” Microsoft Premonition is a way for researchers to replicate environments to test products. “We can build experiments where we don’t need to go to the environment. [We can] solve problems without leaving to go out to the field.” 

Familiar then introduced the importance of sustainability to Microsoft, highlighting their work to fight climate change. “Planet-sized challenges require planet-scale innovation and business transformation,” Familiar explained. He produced examples such as Microsoft’s work to “become carbon negative, become zero-waste, and become water-positive.” He also noted that Microsoft is seeking to remove all historic emissions by 2050. 

Familiar also introduced Microsoft Planetary Computing - a “planetary computer [that] combines a multi-petabyte catalog of global environmental data with intuitive APIs [and] a flexible scientific environment that allows users to answer global questions about data and its applications.” 

Students also were provided with lunch and a tour of the facility, introducing them to other innovations that Microsoft is working on. These included AI eyewear for construction operations and health services. Microsoft also provided a Q&A session for future employment opportunities.