At least once each year I trek on over to visit my colleagues at Microsoft Research. It’s actually not much of a trek. The group’s headquarters are really just a few blocks from my own office on the Microsoft campus. I was especially looking forward to this year’s visit since I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to see MSR’s new building. The group moved into sparkling new facilities back in November. The building hosts a four-story atrium with dazzling open spaces, state of the art conference rooms, and a soothing Northwest decor. It’s the perfect place to think and collaborate.
Visiting MSR has become part of my routine because it’s a way for me to preview some of our latest technologies and then speculate how they might one day be applied to health and healthcare. Two years ago, I was privileged to see Surface computing long before it became a commercial product. As inventor-researcher, Andy Wilson, and I played with Surface I couldn’t help but speculate on all the ways this revolutionary user interface would find its way into clinical medicine.
On this year’s tour we take a look at six different projects in a special two-part video edition of my popular House Calls for Healthcare Professionals series. Several of these projects have a bit of a common thread in that they explore how we watch the computer, and how the computer might do a better job of watching us. In Part One, I think you’ll particularly enjoy something called "situated interaction" in which an on-screen avatar of sortsinteracts with individuals or groups of people to perform routine tasks such as scheduling our on-campus shuttle service. Perhaps one day many of the mundane tasks now handled by front desk "assistants" in our clinics and medical centers will be performed by such machines. We’ll also see the way researchers are using eye-tracking software to study how humans interact with what’s on a computer screen to help guide the design of better user interfaces. Once again, one might imagine how this could be applied to designing better clinical systems where too much data often obscures what we really need to know. On the last stop of the first program, we once again drop in to visit Andy Wilson. This time Andy shows us what may be the next evolution in Surface computing and display technology. It gets BIG!
Part Two of my video visit to Microsoft Research carries on with the theme by exploring how visualization is helping researchers study the HIV virus. This work, by Dr. David Heckerman and colleagues, got its start in research originally designed to help filter spam in corporate e-mail. It turns out that spam headers morph over time in much the same way that a virus mutates. Bingo! Researchers designed algorithms and mapping solutions that help predict how and where HIV mutates, a discovery that has great potential for speeding vaccine research. In another lab, we explore howanimation helps bring data to life thereby improving our comprehension of what’s going on. Finally, I visit with a research intern who demonstrates yet another way we may one day interact with the computer, using electromyographic signals. This technology may lead to better assistive technologies for people with disabilities or to ways that busy clinicians, who are scrubbed into surgery or otherwise occupied, might navigate the computer screen and enter data.
I hope you enjoy the shows. Special thanks to my friend and professional colleague, Dr. Eric Horvitz (most recently of "6.6 degrees of separation" fame) for his help in facilitating our video shoot with his fellow MSR researchers. Thanks also to Laura Foy and Bob Snyder from Microsoft Channel 10. Click on the links below to watch the videos.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation