Monday, February 4, 2008

Microsoft's New Research Lab in Cambridge

Microsoft is adding a basic research group to its growing Cambridge, MA outpost, led by long-time company researcher Jennifer Tour Chayes, who will move out here from Redmond. Dr. Chayes' husband, Christian Borgs, will serve as deputy managing director of the new lab.

This lab is Microsoft's sixth; it's the first on the East Coast, and the first led by a woman. (Others are in Cambridge, England; Bangalore; Beijing; Mountain View, CA; and Redmond, WA.)

From the NY Times coverage:

    “Essentially every other industrial lab I know is shrinking, with the exception of Google,” Dr. Chayes said. Since she joined the company in 1997, she said, Microsoft Research has grown eightfold to 800 researchers who hold doctorates.

    ...Microsoft is adamant about retaining a pure research department reminiscent of the old Bell Laboratories, whose scientists were awarded six Nobel Prizes over the years.

    "Microsoft is probably the sole remaining corporate research lab that still values basic research," said Maria Klawe, a mathematician who is president of Harvey Mudd College.

The Globe says that the lab will open in July 2008 with 10 to 15 researchers from Redmond, and will grow "to at least 50 people." Reporter Rob Weisman says that "Microsoft soon will have nearly 800 employees in Massachusetts."

Microsoft offers a company-produced Q&A with Chayes and Borges:

    Chayes: If you look at where the computing experience is headed, where the online experience is headed, and where Microsoft’s business is headed, we should be developing expertise in economics so that we understand how people value things, in sociology so that we understand how people interact with one another, in psychology so that we understand what makes people do what they do, and all of this in the online context. If we’re going to help build the social networks of tomorrow, if we’re going to come up with new business models so that we can monetize them, if we are going to help to come up with productivity software so that people can collaborate online, we need to understand more about people: who they are, how they value things, and how they interact with each other.

Here's an article about Chayes and her work at Microsoft from 1998; she joined the company the prior year.

Finally, the official press release is here.

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