Insight from a Microsoft Professional: Susan Dumais

December 1, 2019

Dr. Susan Dumais is Microsoft Technical Fellow and Deputy Lab Director of MSR AI. She knows that search has evolved from discovering information to getting tasks done. In order. To accomplish tasks, search queries are a fundamental and they are rooted in people’s information needs. The Microsoft Research Podcast interviewed Dr. Dumais in the episode, “HCI, IR, And The Search For Better Search With Dr. Susan Dumais.”

Dr. Dumais shared that most of her work centered around search stems from frustrations she encountered with her own life. These included trouble learning Unix OS and vast amounts of spam. At the beginning of the podcast, she runs down the history of search and how it has changed in the past twenty years. Search has become more intuitive, especially give the work Dr. Dumais did when providing context to search.

“Host: Context in anything makes a difference with language and this is integrally linked to the idea of personalization, which is a buzz word in almost every area of computer science research these days: how can we give people a “valet service” experience with their technical devices and systems? So, tell us about the technical approaches you’ve taken on context in search, and how they’ve enabled machines to better recognize or understand the rich contextual signals, as you call them, that can help humans improve their access to information?

Susan Dumais: If you take a step back and consider what a web search engine is, it’s incredibly difficult to understand what somebody is looking for given, typically, two to three words. These two to three words appear in a search box and what you try to do is match those words against billions of documents. That’s a really daunting challenge. That challenge becomes a little easier if you can understand things about where the query is coming from. It doesn’t fall from the sky, right? It’s issued by a real live human being. They have searched for things in the longer term, maybe more acutely in the current session. It’s situated in a particular location in time. All of those signals are what we call context that help understand why somebody might be searching and, more importantly, what you might do to help them, what they might mean by that. You know, again, it’s much easier to understand queries if you have a little bit of context about it.”

Dr. Dumais has a practical approach to making search work for the average user. It is the everyday tasks that build up that power how search is shaped and its functionality. She represents an enlightened technical expert that understands the perspective of the end user.

Whitney Grace, November 30, 2019

Microsoft and China: Doing Business with Huawei

November 26, 2019

DarkCyber noted “Microsoft Granted License to Export Mass Market Software to Huawei.” The write up reports:

On November 20, the U.S. Department of Commerce granted Microsoft’s request for a license to export mass-market software to Huawei.

Interesting. Apple, Microsoft: Is there a message here.

Stephen E Arnold, November 26, 2019

Microsoft Search: Still Playing an Old Eight Track Cassette?

November 20, 2019

How many times has DarkCyber heard about Microsoft’s improved search? Once, twice? Nope, dozens upon dozens. Whether it was the yip yap about Fast Search & Transfer, Colloquis and its natural language processing, Powerset and its semantic search system, Semantic Machines for natural voice functions, or the home brew solutions from hither and yon in the Microsoft research and development empire. There’s Outlook search and Bing search and probably a version of LinkedIn’s open source search kicking around too.

But that’s irrelevant in today’s “who cares about the past?” datasphere. DarkCyber noted “Here’s How Microsoft Is Looking to Make Search Smarter and More Natural.” What is smart search? An abrogation of user intentions? What is more natural? Boolean logic, field codes, date and time metadata, and similar artifacts of a long lost era seem okay for the DarkCyber team.

The write up explains in its own surrealistic way:

Microsoft’s ultimate goal with Microsoft Search is to provide answers not just to simple queries, but also more personalized, complex ones, such as “Can I bring my pet to work?”. The Microsoft Graph API, semantic knowledge understanding from Bing, machine-reading comprehension and the Office 365 storage and services substrate all are playing a role in bringing this kind of search to Microsoft’s apps.

Yeah, okay. But enterprise SharePoint users still complain that current content cannot be located. The current tools are blind to versions of content residing on departmental servers or parked in a cloud account owned by the legal department. And what about the prices just quoted by an enterprise sales professional? Sorry. You are out of luck, but Microsoft is… trying.

Now grab this peek into the future of Microsoft search:

Turing in Bing already has helped Microsoft to understand semantics via searching by concept instead of keyword. Natural-language processing also has helped with understanding query intent, she noted. Semantic understanding means users don’t have to expect exact word matches. (When searching for Coke, matches with “canned soda,” also could be part of the set of results generated, for example.) The Turing researchers are employing machine reading, as well, to help with contextual search/results.

The chaotic and often misfiring Microsoft search technologies do one thing well: Generate revenue for the legions of certified Microsoft partners.

Users? Yeah, Microsoft may help you too. In the meantime, the lawyers will manage their own contract drafts and eDiscovery materials. The engineers will stick with the tools baked into AutoCAD type systems? The marketers will do what marketers in many companies do? Stuff data on USBs, into the Google cloud, or copy the files to a shared folder on a former employee’s desktop. Yes, it happens.

Microsoft and search. Getting better. Here’s a snippet about Powerset (CNET, 2008)

Much of what Powerset has enabled with its technology is a superior user experience for searching. Powerset’s Wikipedia search, which surfaces concepts, meanings, and relationships (like subject, verbs, and objects in a language), is the very small tip of the iceberg.

Time for a new eight track tape?

Stephen E Arnold, November 20, 2019

The Sharp Toothed MSN Gnaws on the Google Search Carcass

November 18, 2019

Search and retrieval is fraught with challenges. In the enterprise search sector, fraud has been popular as a way to deal with difficulties. In the Web search sector, the methods have been more chimerical.

MSN, a property of Microsoft, published “How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results.” The write up appears to recycle the work of the Wall Street Journal. The authors allegedly are Kirsten Grind, Sam Schechner, Robert McMillan and John West. It is unlikely that Alphabet Google will invite these people to the firm’s holiday bash this year.

What’s in the write up? The approximately 8,500 word article does the kitchen sink approach to sins. Religious writers boil evil down to seven issues. Google, it seems, requires to words to cover the online advertising firm’s transgressions.

DarkCyber will not engage in the naming of evils. Several observations are warranted:

  1. Google’s waterproof coating has become permeable
  2. After decades, “search experts” are starting to comprehend the intellectual impact of search results which has been shaped
  3. The old-fashioned approach of published editorial policies, details about updating indexes, and user control of queries via Boolean logic is not what fuels the Google method.

But so what? With more than 60 percent of search queries to the Google flowing from mobile devices, old school approaches won’t work. Figuring out what works depends on defining “works”.

Finding information is a big deal. What happens when one tries to hide information? The answers may be observed in the action of Google employees who have forced the company to stop communicating in “all hands” Friday meetings.

What’s Microsoft doing? For one thing, poking Googzilla in the eye with MSN articles is one example of Microsoft’s tactical approach. The other is to ignore problematic Windows 10 updates and “ignite” people to embrace a hybrid cloud paradigm.

And what about Microsoft’s own search technologies. One pundit apologist continues to explain that Microsoft search is just getting more efficient, not better.

Net net: Google and Microsoft may have more in common than some individuals realize. Maybe envy? Maybe techno-attraction? Maybe two black holes circling? Whatever. The situation is interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, November 18, 2019

The UAE and AI: What Will Students Learn?

November 7, 2019

DarkCyber noted “Abu Dhabi AI University Is Key to UAE’s Future As the Oil Dries Up.” The write up states:

The Gulf state is developing healthcare, financial services, renewable energy and materials technology sectors, which will make up the UAE economy when the oil runs out. But first, it needs to ensure its citizens have the skills to drive them. The long-term nature of the UAE government’s initiative is what stands out for Oxford University professor Michael Brady, who is interim president of Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), which was set up to ensure the UAE has the right skills to drive these industries. The Masdar City-based university has just opened to applications for its first intake of 50 students.

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, among others, have a presence in UAE. The article quoted Professor Brady as saying:

But it was the ambition that he saw when he visited Abu Dhabi, which puts UK government planning to shame, that cemented his interest “There is a stark difference between the short-termism that characterizes so much of government policy in the UK, where politicians worry about the headlines tomorrow morning,” he said. “It is so refreshing to be part of a government-led initiative that has a 30-year vision to transform the economy and the culture.”

The AI university is important. The question the write up did not address is:

What cloud AI service will be the core of the curriculum?

It seems obvious that the go-to cloud system for students will have an advantage in deploying next-generation solutions.

Worth monitoring which of these three cloud aspirants will capture the hearts and minds of the student, UAE officials, and investors who want to cash in on this investment in the future.

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2019

Microsoft Displays Its Amazon AWS Neutralizer

November 5, 2019

I read about Microsoft’s victory over the evil neighbor Amazon. What was Microsoft’s trump card, its AWS neutralizer, its technology innovation?

The answer may have appeared in “Microsoft Unveils Azure Arc, Aiming to Fend Off Google and Amazon with New Hybrid Cloud Tech.” Here’s the once closely-held diagram.


Like most AWS-hostile diagrams, it includes three features which customers like the Pentagon and other entities desire:

  1. The ability to integrate multiple clouds, on premises computers, and edge computers into one homogeneous system. (Latency? Don’t bring that up, please.)
  2. The Azure stack in one’s own computer center where it can be managed by an Azure-certified staff with the assistance of Azure-certified Microsoft partners. (Headcount implications. Don’t bring that up, please.)
  3. An Azure administrative system which provides a bird’s-eye view of the client’s Azure-centric system. (Permissions and access controls. Don’t bring that up, please.)

Microsoft has rolled out a comprehensive vision. The challenge is that Amazon and Google have similar visions.

Microsoft may want to check out Amazon’s security and access control technology. But that’s a minor point for a company which struggles to update Windows 10 without disabling user’s computers.

Great diagram though. Someone once observed, “The map is not the territory.” And then there is the increasingly relevant Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges who wrote:

Nothing is built on stone; All is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.

Borjes was a surrealist who could see societal trends despite his blindness.

Stephen E Arnold, November 4, 2019

Azure Stability, Bonked Win 10 Updates, and C for Credge

November 4, 2019

Yep, do the ABCs. I spotted “Microsoft’s Edge Browser Gets a New Chromium Logo.” The main point of the story is a log for Microsoft’s version of the Google Chrome browser. Some pundits have dubbed this shotgun marriage of two giants with thoughts of an unassailable market position Credge. Here’s the logo in its swirliness.


Perhaps the effort put into this Credgey logo took away from some other tasks at the new Microsoft; for example, the Fast Search engine “improvements”, making Microsoft Word’s image placement more intuitive after many, many years, and providing clear, simple explanations for common problems?

What’s DarkCyber’s assessment of the Credge logo? It appears that someone (possibly a contractor) knows how to manipulate Adobe Illustrator gradients.

But the logo looks a bit like this antecedent from Deposit Photos, a photo and vector image licensing vendor:


Maybe, just maybe, Azure issues, botched updates, and a possibly derivative logo are more difficult than fiddling with stock art?

Stephen E Arnold, November 4, 2019

Microsoft: These People Will Support Warfighters?

October 31, 2019

I read “Microsoft Sends Security Patch to the Wrong Version of Windows 10.”The main point is:

Microsoft released an update to Windows 10 Home users that was meant for Pro and Enterprise only. KB4523786 applies to the most recent Windows 10 build (1903/May 2019), and brings with it “quality improvements to Windows Autopilot configured devices”.


Thing is, it was. In fact, it was sent to Home devices and Pro devices that weren’t registered for Autopilot. The update has since been pulled…

Yep, Department of Defense vendor? Let’s hope those updates work in theater.

Stephen E Arnold, October 31, 2019

Microsoft Github: An Issue for MSFT to Resolve? Yes!

October 30, 2019

Microsoft, the open source champion and all-time wizard of software updates, were served some spoiled digital tapas. You can read the “menu order” at this link. The idea is that Github is hosting an app which allows some individuals in Spain to thwart police actions. The English and Spanish posting states:

Spain is currently facing a series of riots involving serious public disorder and main infrastructure’s sabotage. There is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the National High Court where the movement Tsunami Democratic has been confirmed as a criminal organization driving people to commit terrorist attacks. Tsunami Democratic’s main goal is coordinating these riots and terrorist actions by using any possible mean. Among them, they have developed an app that provides information about those riots and allows their users to communicate between themselves in order to coordinate those actions. This app has been uploaded in GitHub by the user [private] ([private]), where people that want to participate in riots can access his repository ([private]) and install different versions of this app in their devices. Moreover, other repositories with the same information have been created to prevent the content being withheld.

WWMD or What will Microsoft do? Fight for open source goodness, respond to a legitimate request and warrant, or output legal-marketing goodness?

Worth monitoring? Yes. DarkCyber is interested in how activist Microsoft employees respond, both in Spain and in other MSFT office locations.

Stephen E Arnold, October 30, 2019

Microsoft Buys AnyVision: Why?

October 30, 2019

We noted “Why Did Microsoft Fund an Israeli Firm That Surveils West Bank Palestinians?” The write up stated:

Microsoft has invested in a startup that uses facial recognition to surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank, in spite of the tech giant’s public pledge to avoid using the technology if it encroaches on democratic freedoms. AnyVision, which is headquartered in Israel but has offices in the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore, sells an “advanced tactical surveillance” software system, Better Tomorrow. It lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or a smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds.

The write up covers the functions of the firm’s technology. The contentious subject of facial recognition is raised.

However, one question was not asked, “Why?” Microsoft took action despite employee push back on certain projects.

The answer is, “Possess a technology that gets Microsoft closer to Amazon’s capabilities in this particular technical niche.

Microsoft has to beef up in a number of technical spaces. It may have a demanding client and a major project which requires certain capabilities. Marketing is one thing; delivering is another.

Stephen E Arnold, October 30, 2019

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