Microsoft Research’s contributions to Office 2016

With the launch of Office 2016 a few days ago, Microsoft is releasing a torrent of exciting information regarding the flagship office suite’s future roadmap and development. The latest tidbit comes in a blog post from Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s Technology and Research Harry Shum, in which he explains how Microsoft Research contributed to Office 2016 development.

harry-shum-featured-306x204A big part of Shum’s job is to help Microsoft product teams incorporate Microsoft Research’s long-term research into its product development, which requires tight collaboration with such teams, he wrote:

In today’s workplace, information is everywhere, with fewer and fewer barriers to access. But in a world where information flows faster than ever before, just transferring information doesn’t necessarily mean better collaboration. We believe that collaboration is made better when intelligence, inference, context and intent are applied.

The laundry list of Research’s contributions the Office lineup begins with Clutter, a feature in Office 365 that helps users focus on important messages by relocating relatively unimportant messages into a new Clutter folder. The underlying technology responsible for this came from a long term collaboration between Microsoft Research Cambridge and the Exchange team on probabilistic programming, a unique form of machine learning that interestingly obviates the need to write complex machine learning algorithms.

Next is the vaunted Smart Lookup feature found in the entire Office core product lineup. Smart Lookup is the result of collaboration from the Office, Bing, and Research teams. The feature is essentially an intelligent, context-aware search algorithm that will pull information from the web about regarding certain keywords the user highlights. The key here is “context-aware”.

For example, if you’re reading an article about Paul Simon the politician, your search results will reflect that context, not Paul Simon the musician. This is smart machine intelligence at work.

Finally Shum discusses Microsoft Translator, a cloud-based automatic translation service. The service is made possible by Microsoft Research’s efforts, which, among other things, fostered groundbreaking advances in speech. The translation service can be found in the Translator App for Office in the Office Store. which offers Office users a custom translation engine tailored specifically to the individual through the Microsoft Translator Hub.

As seen from the examples above, one of the most exciting things about working at Microsoft Research is that team members get to work on the most cutting edge research and experimentation, and it’s great to see how these state-of-the-art ideas improve our products and services.



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