Bill Gates showed he means to keep up with Microsoft's research efforts despite retiring from his day-to-day role earlier this summer by attending a ceremony in Hong Kong Tuesday night to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Microsoft Research Asia.
The regional arm to Microsoft Research, which boasts a hefty budget of US$8.1 billion this year, was opened in 1998 to take advantage of local talent.
"When I visited China in 1997, I was deeply impressed by the talent, the enthusiasm and the creativity of the Chinese university students I met," Gates is quoted as saying on the Microsoft Research Web site. "That trip played a pivotal role in our decision to establish a fundamental research lab in Beijing in 1998."
From the founding of that lab in November 1998 to today, Microsoft Research Asia has grown from just a dozen people to more than 350 full-time employees and as many interns who conduct research in more than 20 different fields, according to a letter from Hon Hsiao-wuen, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, on the lab's Web site.
"Our research is both broad and deep, spanning disciplines including natural-user interface, multimedia, data-intensive computing, search and online advertising and fundamental subjects in computer science," he said.
Hon is an expert in speech technology, something that shows in some of the Microsoft developments coming out of Asia.
A lot of work on speech recognition software has been done in Asia, partly to localize Microsoft products to languages in the region as well as new innovations. Much of the HMM (Hidden Markov Model)-based Text-to-Speech (TTS) work, for example, developed to synthesize speech in different languages, has been done in the Asia lab, according to Microsoft. The technology will be part of Microsoft Exchange servers.
The company in all counts over 200 innovations from Microsoft Research Asia that have made their way into products central to Microsoft's business, including both the Windows Vista and XP OSes, Office 2007, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition as well as the Xbox game console and features on MSN's Windows Live.
Some of these technologies include digital ink, software that mimics the characteristics of ink on paper, only on a computer screen; graphics technology used in the popular game Halo such as UV Atlas, which gives the game the ability to texture map a 3D (three-dimensional) scene and Lightmap Compression, which adds realistic illumination to solar flares or explosions; and AutoMovie, a feature of Windows Movie Maker that automatically creates highlight videos from raw footage and aligns them with music from a user's digital library.
One of the main roles for Microsoft Research Asia has been to work with academia in the region. To that end, it has established 10 joint labs with leading universities in the Asia Pacific region and partnered with over 100 universities and research centers in places from Australia and Japan to Korea and Singapore on specific projects.
The lab has also funded more than 450 research projects in Asia, hosted more than 2,500 interns and granted more than 200 fellowships in the region.