Microsoft Research’s Silicon Valley Center (MSR/SVC) was the home of a truly amazing research team. The team began at Digital Equipment Company’s Systems Research Center (DEC/SRC) in the mid-eighties and, over the last thirty years, has been a pioneer of distributed systems research and an example of industrial research at its best. Its thirteen year run at MSR/SVC continued this tradition:
- as a collaboration between two pillars of computer science, systems and theory;
- as an industrial laboratory with unfettered academic freedom;
- as a lab where research prototypes transferred to deployed systems, like Dryad which shipped with Microsoft Server;
- as a lab where fundamental theory of computation was envisioned and brought to maturity, like differential privacy;
- as a lab that embraced and supported the greater academic community;
- as a lab that, since its contemporaneous founding with the then nascent field of economics and computation (EC), was pivotal in its development.
Perhaps most importantly, MSR/SVC has had profound impact on several generations of researchers who visited as Ph.D.s in the internship program, or as postdocs, or as academic visitors. Indeed, many of these researchers have shared their experiences in the comments on Omer Reingold’s presumedly final Windows on Theory blog post.
My own story is similar to that of many others: My advisor Anna Karlin was a member of the team during its DEC/SRC years. (Thank you Anna!) My Ph.D. thesis originated from an auction question posed by the team’s Andrew Goldberg and is based on what became a nine-paper collaboration. (Thank you Andrew!) I clearly remember my 2003 job interview with Roy Levin in 2003, before the first academic paper on the subject, where he told me about the problem of sponsored search and the research challenges it posed for auction theory. (Thank you Roy!) On graduation I joined the team as a researcher and spent an amazing four years in which I could not have found a more supportive, stable, and stimulating environment to work on the theory of mechanism design. Collaborations with Andrew Goldberg developed the competitive analysis of auctions. Collaborations Moshe Babaioff and Alex Slivkins and lab visitors Avrim Blum, Nina Balcan, and Bobby Kleinberg brought connections to machine learning theory. Collaborations with visitors Shuchi Chawla and Bobby Kleinberg initiated the study of approximation in Bayesian mechanism design. Collaborations with lab visitor Madhu Sudan brought connections to coding theory. Discussions with Cynthia Dwork, Frank McSherry, and Kunal Talwar made connections to differential privacy. It was an incredible time to be with such an amazing group. MSR/SVC, thank you!
Last week MSR/SVC closed and with it did a chapter in the story of an elite team of researchers, a culture of collaboration, an institution of research excellence. I hope, just as the team survived acquisition by Compaq and Hewlett Packard in the late nineties, that this chapter is not its last. For myself, my cobloggers at Turing’s Invisible Hand, and on behalf of the EC research community; I would like to thank the MSR/SVC team for everything they have done for computer scientists, computer science, and the field of economics and computation.