In Brief: Microsoft Research's Neat Projects

By Norman Chan

Cortana may be making headlines, but Microsoft has cooler projects in the works.

So the rumors of Microsoft naming its digital search assistant Cortana (after the AI character in Halo) are looking increasingly likely. According to The Verge's sources, Microsoft will replace Windows Phone's Bing Search functionality with a personality-based assistant that sources its data from Bing, Foursquare, and other contextual data sets. It's a bold repositioning of Bing search for mobile, but we'll have to wait to see if it's actually a smart one. But it made me think of the many neat research experiments being developed in Microsoft Research's labs, many of which never find their way into consumer products. The Interactive Visual Media group is of particular interest to me. Its where researchers came up new algorithms for smoothing pixel art, and then smart methods for downsampling images to create convincing pixel art. Two recent projects caught my eye: a method to auto-generate context-aware captions for personal photos, and a computer vision system to identify the make and model of a car from a single photo.