Microsoft's annual TechFest is a three day conference for Microsoft employees to see demos of research projects and hear technical presentations from the researchers themselves. This year for the first time Microsoft invited press and bloggers for a special preview.
Microsoft employs over 750 PhD. research scientists working on hundreds of projects. Web search is always a popular research topic and this year was no exception. As John Markoff from The New York Times wrote;
During a morning session for more than 300 visitors at the Microsoft Conference Center, Lili Cheng, a user-interface designer for the Windows Vista operating system, showed off a new service called Mix that will allow Web surfers to organize search results and easily share them.
A second tool demonstrated, called Web Assistant, is intended to improve the relevance of search results and help resolve ambiguities in results that, for example, would give a user sites for both Reggie Bush and George Bush.
Susan Dumais, a veteran Microsoft search expert, has built a tool to help determine relevance called Personalized Search. It pulls together several hundred results and then compares them with the index that Windows users can build of the documents on their hard drives, a feature called Desktop Search.
Artificial Intelligence applied to search - By building an index of documents, emails, and previous searches it is possible to create a personal profile that will help filter and rank search results for better relevance. This is an artificial intelligence system that learns your interests and preferences, and constantly updates its algorithm based on your choices. In this way it is not necessary for the user to change their behavior or search style in order to improve results.
Here is a link to brief descriptions of other search related projects at Microsoft's research labs.
The Mix project referenced above in the NYT article is about finding and sharing dynamic content from a variety of sources. Search, aggregators, and RSS enable people to draw information from many dynamic streams of information on their desktop. People are getting used to reading dynamic content, but there are limited tools today to author and share dynamic content. Mix enables people to build and share dynamic documents with rich structure and visualizations on top of first-class query objects that draw from desktop, intranets, and Web-based search. Mix explores new user interfaces with regard to privacy and security.
The Microsoft Research site has brief descriptions of most of the projects that were showcased at TechFest. Visit the TechFest Demo site for further details.