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World Childhood Foundation marks 20 years with focus on AI and child safety online

World Childhood Foundation, launched in 1999 by Queen Silvia of Sweden, recently marked 20 years of child protection with a roundtable on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

The day-long event, held last month at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, brought together 60 AI experts, representatives from technology companies, child safety advocates, academics and others to explore new ways to combat the proliferation of child sexual exploitation and abuse imagery (CSEAI) online.

“How can we use AI as a catalyst for child safety online,” asked King Carl XVI Gustaf, who, along with Queen Silvia and other members of Sweden’s royal family, presided over the day’s discussions. “New approaches are needed, so we are bringing together some of the sharpest minds in AI and child protection to share knowledge and experiences.”

The event consisted of a series of presentations, panels and small-group discussions about raising awareness among the broader global population about the “epidemic” that is child sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the misuse of technology to share illegal imagery and enable on-demand abuse of children tens of thousands of miles away. Experts shared experiences, ideas and data, including that reports of child sexual abuse videos to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) had risen 541% in 2018 compared to the prior year. Moreover, children of all ages and backgrounds are susceptible to sexual exploitation with more than 56% of the children in Interpol’s database identified as prepubescent. “Nothing surprises us anymore,” said one law enforcement official.

More, faster needed from all stakeholders

The roundtable concluded with a series of observations and recommendations from a variety of sectors, including law and public policy, technology, and victim advocacy, including that:

  • Governments need to take a more active role in addressing the issue. Indeed, no country or society is immune from child sexual abuse and the vile content that makes its way online. Experts acknowledged the work of some standouts governments like the U.K., Australia and others, but called for more globalization and harmonization
  • Children need to be acknowledged as rights-holders, including their right to privacy, and not just as “objects in need of protection”
  • Speed will continue to present a challenge with technological advancements moving at internet speed; academic research occupying a distant second position; and policy, law and regulation lagging significantly behind
  • Civil society needs to do more and, in particular, victims’ rights groups and other organizations must inject a sense of urgency into the dialogue, and
  • Hope must be offered by believing in the brilliance and power of the human and the machine working together to combat such deep-rooted societal ills

I had the privilege of attending and presenting details on the progress of the development of a new method to detect potential instances of child online grooming for sexual purposes. The technique is the result of a cross-industry hackathon that Microsoft hosted in November 2018. Engineers from Microsoft and three other companies continued to develop the process for 12 months following the hackathon, and we intend to make it freely available in 2020 to enable others to examine historical chat conversations for potential indicia of grooming. (Grooming for sexual purposes takes place when someone befriends a child with the intent of gaining the child’s trust for sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.) For more about the technique being developed, see this post.

Queen Silvia builds on Vatican remarks

The week before the Stockholm roundtable, a number of attendees also participated in a conference in Rome, Promoting Digital Child Dignity: From Concept to Action. This event was sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Child Dignity Alliance and the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Queen Silvia was a featured speaker at the Rome conference, noting that when she founded World Childhood Foundation, she hoped she could use her voice to highlight the global problem of child sexual exploitation and abuse. She imagined that the foundation would soon close because it would no longer be needed, as the global scourge that is child sexual abuse would have been eliminated. “To speak about the unspeakable, and to give children back their right to a childhood,” she said. “(Yet,) 20 years later, here we are, with an ever-increasing number of children at risk of abuse and exploitation online.”

Along with several speakers that followed her in Rome, the queen called on all stakeholders to come together and do more: policymakers, technology companies, civil society and faith-based groups. “For the child who has suffered abuse; for the child who is at risk; for the child who carries guilt and shame – for this child, we have to speak with one voice and to act collectively.” (The Queen’s Rome remarks were distributed to participants of the Stockholm roundtable.)

A third landmark event on combating CSEAI will be held later this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union, the WePROTECT Global Alliance and the U.K. Government will sponsor the Global Summit to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation on December 11 and 12.

Microsoft and the challenge of Online Child Sexual Exploitation  

This increased attention from several corners of the globe and from new and different stakeholder groups is both needed and encouraging. Additional strides will follow only when we embrace a whole-of-society approach and all stakeholders take part in this important fight.

Microsoft has been combating the spread of CSEAI online for nearly two decades. We first became aware of the magnitude of these online horrors in 2003 when a lead detective from the Toronto Police Department sent an email to our then CEO Bill Gates, asking for help using technology to track down purveyors of CSEAI and for assistance with the detective’s goal of rescuing child victims. Microsoft responded with a $1 million investment and the creation of a technology still in use today by some law enforcement agencies to share investigative information.

Our commitment to create technology to help fight CSEAI online continued with the invention of PhotoDNA, PhotoDNA Cloud Service and PhotoDNA for Video. Progress has been made over the last 20 years, but more needs to be done, including raising awareness, educating young people and the wider public, reporting illegal content to technology companies and hotlines, and continuing to create technologies and techniques to assist in online detection and reporting.

Learn more

To learn more about the World Childhood Foundation, visit the organization’s website. To learn what Microsoft is doing to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse online, see this link, and to learn more about digital safety generally, go to www.microsoft.com/saferonline, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Microsoft Ireland teacher on the impact of role models: ‘I firmly believe you can’t be what you can’t see’

“Bluebell is in a disadvantaged area, and when I have kids come in from similar areas, I always tell them where I’m from. And they’re like, ‘No, you’re not!’” she says. “Because to them, seeing someone from Bluebell working at Microsoft is a big deal. And I just hope that they think, ‘If she works here, I can work here.’”

After a recent class, a student thanked Amanda and told her that she’d only seen men code before. The chance to code alongside other girls was something she’d never imagined.

“That was a ‘whoa’ moment for me.” Amanda pauses and then sighs with disappointment. “Of course, I know the statistics about women in the tech industry. But to actually have a student say that made the reality and the impact so much more real.”

In the next year, Amanda hopes to reach more students through DreamSpace by traveling to rural areas, training more teachers, and even creating mini-DreamSpace environments at schools—colorful and comfortable corners within classrooms where students can learn together.A woman laughs while two younger women look at a computer screen and point. They are having fun learning.

“I firmly believe you can’t be what you can’t see,” Amanda says.

“I want to show students that it doesn’t matter where you live. It’s doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what your parents do. You can do this; it’s possible for you.”

*****

Back at Colaiste Pobail Setanta, Amanda hugs her former coworkers good-bye and heads out of her old science lab. As her hand swipes an empty student desk, she thinks lovingly about the past. She loves what she does now—growing her own skills in new ways—but she’ll always remember where she came from.

Making her way to the exit, Amanda walks past the front office receptionist—a new employee who didn’t work there when Amanda was a teacher at the school.

“Hello, I’m Amanda. I used to teach here.”

“Hmm. What do you do now?” the receptionist asks, assuming Amanda has left the vocation as well as the school.

“Oh, I still teach,” she says, her face lighting up with pride. “But now, I’m a teacher at Microsoft.”

*****

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Game of Drones competition aims to advance autonomous systems

Image from Game of Drones simulation

Drone racing has transformed from a niche activity sparked by enthusiastic hobbyists to an internationally televised sport. In parallel, computer vision and machine learning are making rapid progress, along with advances in agile trajectory planning, control, and state estimation for quadcopters. These advances enable increased autonomy and reliability for drones. More recently, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research community has begun to tackle the drone-racing problem. This has given rise to competitions, with the goal of beating human performance in drone racing.

At the thirty-third Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2019), the AirSim research team is working together with Stanford University and University of Zurich to further democratize drone-racing research by hosting a simulation-based competition, Game of Drones. We are hosting the competition on Microsoft AirSim, our Unreal Engine-based simulator for multirotors. The competition focuses on trajectory planning and control, computer vision, and opponent drone avoidance. This is achieved via three tiers:

  • Tier 1 Planning only: The participant’s drone races tête-à-tête with a Microsoft Research opponent racer. The goal is to go through all gates in the minimum possible time, without hitting the opponent drone. Ground truth for gate poses, the opponent drone pose, and the participant drone are provided. These are accessible via our application-programming interfaces (APIs). The opponent racer follows a minimum jerk trajectory, which goes through randomized waypoints selected in each gate’s cross section.
  • Tier 2 Perception only: This is a time trial format where the participants are provided with noisy gate poses. There’s no opponent drone. The next gate will not always be in view, but the noisy pose returned by our API will steer the drone roughly in the right direction, after which vision-based control would be necessary.
  • Tier 3 – Perception and Planning: This combines Tier 1 and 2. Given the ground truth state estimate for participant drone and noisy estimate for gates, the goal is to race against the opponent racer without colliding with it.

The animation on the left below shows the ground truth gate poses (Tier 1), while the animation on the right shows the noisy gate poses (Tier 2 and Tier 3). In each animation, the drone is tracking a minimum jerk trajectory using one of our competition APIs.

Image shows the ground truth gate poses

The following animation shows a segment of one of our racing tracks with two drones racing against each other. Here “drone_2” (pink spline) is the opponent racer going through randomized waypoints in each gate cross section, while “drone_1” (yellow spline) is a representative competitor going through the gate centers.

This animation shows a segment of one of our racing tracks with two drones racing against each other

The competition is being run in two stages—an initial qualification round and a final round. A set of training binaries with configurable racetracks was made available to the participants initially, for prototyping and verification of algorithms on arbitrary racetracks. In the qualification stage (Oct 15th to Nov 21st), teams were asked to submit their entries for a subset or all of the three competition tiers.  117 teams registered for the competition worldwide, with 16 unique entries that have shown up on the qualification leaderboard.

We are now running the final round of the competition and the corresponding leaderboard is available here. All of the information for the competition is available at our GitHub repository, along with the training, qualification, and final race environments.

Engineering-wise, we introduced some new APIs in AirSim specifically for the competition, and we’re continually adding more features as we get feedback. We highlight the main components below:

In the long term, we intend to keep the competition open, and we will be adding more racing environments after NeurIPS 2019. While the first iteration brought an array of new features to AirSim, there are still many essential ingredients for trustable autonomy in real-world scenarios and effective simulation-to-reality transfer of learned policies. These include reliable state estimation; camera sensor models and motion blur; robustness to environmental conditions like weather, brightness, and diversity in texture and shape of the drone racing gates; and robustness against dynamics of the quadcopter. Over the next iterations, we aim to extend the competition to focus on these components of autonomy as well.

For more of the exciting work Microsoft is doing with AirSim, see our blog post on Ignite 2019.

Acknowledgements: This work would not have been possible without the substantial team effort behind the scenes by all members of the organizing team—Ratnesh Madaan, Nicholas Gyde, Keiko Nagami, Matthew Brown, Sai Vemprala, Tim Taubner, Eric Cristofalo, Paul Stubbs, Jim Piavis, Guada Casuso, Mac Schwager, Davide Scaramuzza, and Ashish Kapoor.

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New tech benefits for nonprofits announced on International Volunteer Day

In our nearly 40 years of supporting philanthropic partnerships with nonprofits, and with the 2017 launch of the Tech for Social Impact team, Microsoft has worked closely with nonprofits and partners to develop new products and resources tailored to nonprofits and their very specific technology needs.

We’re constantly engaged with nonprofits to listen and learn about ways to further meet the needs of nonprofits, both big and small. Through conversations with our network, we realized organizations – especially those who rely on and deploy more than one billion volunteers around the world – need solutions that equip their volunteers with the same quality technology solutions that their full-time employees rely on.

In the spirit of International Volunteer Day, a global observance by the United Nations General Assembly for nearly 35 years to celebrate local, national and international volunteerism, we recognize the importance of nonprofit volunteers. Volunteers are the heartbeat of so many organizations. They are in the field, working with beneficiaries, coordinating and executing programs, engaging donors, and reporting impact. That’s why we must go further and equip more nonprofit volunteers with best-in-class productivity tools to promote seamless collaboration and access to content in the field, built on a platform of security features that ensure sensitive constituent data is securely transferred and responsibly managed.

As it stands today, while many nonprofits have digitally transformed thanks to solutions like Azure and Microsoft 365, their volunteers still use unmanaged solutions, which limits the ability of the nonprofit to manage information, protect sensitive data, and make full use of integrated collaboration tools that can increase productivity.

We want to change that.

Today, we’re announcing our first step by providing enterprise-sized customers with a new Volunteer Use Benefit. Starting January 1, 2020, for each licensed Microsoft 365 E3 or E5 seat, nonprofit customers with Enterprise Agreements will receive 10 additional Office 365 F1 seats for their volunteers to utilize. That means that an organization that has licensed 250 Microsoft 365 E3/E5 seats for their fulltime staff will have access to 2,500 Office 365 F1 licenses for volunteers to use at no additional charge. Office 365 F1 brings together the best of Microsoft’s cloud productivity experience including familiar applications for email, calendars, team collaboration, file storage and sharing. This Volunteer Use Benefit will allow organizations to equip millions of volunteers with the tools they need to have an even greater impact on the missions they serve.

This offer will be made available via our Cloud Solution Provider Channel in Spring 2020.

 “Through our recent deployment of Microsoft 365, we’re using tools like SharePoint, Teams and Exchange to drive increased collaboration, cost efficiencies, and security across our organization. In turn, we can devote more resources to driving mission impact.”, said Craig Tucker National Chief Information Officer of Salvation Army Australia. “Central to the success of our organization are the 8,500 frontline workers and volunteers who execute our mission in the field, engage beneficiaries, and manage important information. If we are able to equip our volunteers with the same high quality, secure and collaborative tech solutions that we rely on across Salvation Army it would allow us to fully realize the benefits of digital transformation for organizational success.”

Developing technology solutions for nonprofits strikes at the heart of Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. In the last year, we’ve rolled out solutions like the Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator, which is helping larger nonprofits drive greater insights and operational efficiencies, as well as a Microsoft 365 Business for Nonprofits offer that arms smaller nonprofits with collaboration tools with advanced security and device management capabilities. Not only are we creating solutions, but we’re also supporting nonprofits with digital literacy to improve adoption and usage through digital skills trainings with resources specific to the sector’s unique challenges and needs. With this announcement, we’re excited to extend support to nonprofits’ volunteers. 

In 2020, Microsoft will work with partners to support the roll out of the implementation of the Volunteer Use Benefit which will make all nonprofits more secure and effective, build trust with their funders and beneficiaries, and continue their digital transformation journey. To learn more and be the first to hear when the Volunteer Use Benefit is live, sign up here.

We’re truly grateful and inspired by volunteers across the globe who give their time and effort to help those in need. Their commitment to the world’s most important causes does not go unnoticed.

Published By

Justin Spelhaug

Justin Spelhaug

Global Head – Tech for Social Impact, Microsoft Philanthropies

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Cracking the code to mobile productivity: Our global journey to rethink, redesign and align our mobile experiences

In Seattle, an engineer thumbs through a Mumbai-based coworker’s edits while walking between meetings. In rural China, an artisan uses their phone to sell their creations. In Johannesburg, a lawyer texts back a client before catching the bus. These real-life snapshots show the diverse and evolving workflows of today’s 5 billion mobile users worldwide.

In many ways, mobile productivity is still a code waiting to be cracked. Beyond mobile-first and mobile-only markets where necessity mandates it, we can rarely accomplish as much on a phone as we do on our PCs. However, we believe in empowering everyone to be fully productive on any device. Our teams’ focus on emerging markets, inclusive design, and accessibility has broadened our aperture as we create more tailored, intelligent experiences across Microsoft 365.

Today, we’re excited to unveil redesigns to our flagship mobile apps! We’ve redesigned Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can also expect new versions of Teams, Yammer, and Planner soon. These redesigns contribute to broader company efforts to take mobile productivity to the next level. At Microsoft Ignite, we publicly previewed our beta Office app and Fluid Framework. Office combines multiple Microsoft 365 mobile experiences in one app, and Fluid is a new technology that breaks broad experiences into dynamic, real-time components ideal for mobile scenarios.

Beyond the public eye, we’re also conducting global research, designing a mobile-born version of Fluent, exploring scenarios for dual-screen experiences, and creating mobile UI toolkits for external developers to build this mobile future alongside us.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at our research, design process, and future vision for Microsoft 365 mobile experiences.

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Soundscape app uses Bing Maps to deliver the world in 3D sound to people who are blind or have low vision

Imagine being able to navigate through your neighborhood using your hearing alone. Microsoft Soundscape is an application built by the Enable Group in Microsoft Research that helps the blind and low vision explore the world around them using a map delivered in 3D sound. Armed with a stereo headset and the Soundscape app, anyone with a visual impairment can experience a mobile voice-based map that helps empower by providing the independence to traverse your environment and the ability to choose how to get from place to another.

With the help of Bing Maps Local Search and Bing Maps Location Recognition APIs, Soundscape enables you to hear where landmarks are around you to orient yourself, build a richer awareness of your surroundings, and have the confidence to discover what’s around the next corner.

Read the full story at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/maps/customers/microsoft-soundscape.

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Microsoft Research Open Data Project: Evolving our standards for data access and reproducible research

Datasets compilation for Open Data

Last summer we announced Microsoft Research Open Data—an Azure-based repository-as-a-service for sharing datasets—to encourage the reproducibility of research and make research data assets readily available in the cloud. Among other things, the project started a conversation between the community and Microsoft’s legal team about dataset licensing. Inspired by these conversations, our legal team developed a set of brand new data use agreements and released them for public comment on Github earlier this year.

Today we’re excited to announce that Microsoft Research Open Data will be adopting these data use agreements for several datasets that we offer.

Diving a bit deeper on the new data use agreements

The Open Use of Data Agreement (O-UDA) is intended for use by an individual or organization that is able to distribute data for unrestricted uses, and for which there is no privacy or confidentiality concern. It is not appropriate for datasets that include any data that might include materials subject to privacy laws (such as the GDPR or HIPAA) or other unlicensed third-party materials. The O-UDA meets the open definition: it does not impose any restriction with respect to the use or modification of data other than ensuring that attribution and limitation of liability information is passed downstream. In the research context, this implies that users of the data need to cite the corresponding publication with which the data is associated. This aids in findability and reusability of data, an important tenet in the FAIR guiding principles for scientific data management and stewardship.

We also recognize that in certain cases, datasets useful for AI and research analysis may not be able to be fully “open” under the O-UDA. For example, they may contain third-party copyrighted materials, such as text snippets or images, from publicly available sources. The law permits their use for research, so following the principle that research data should be “as open as possible, as closed as necessary,” we developed the Computational Use of Data Agreement (C-UDA) to make data available for research while respecting other interests. We will prefer the O-UDA where possible, but we see the C-UDA as a useful tool for ensuring that researchers continue to have access to important and relevant datasets.

Datasets that reflect the goals of our project

The following examples reference datasets that have adopted the Open Use of Data Agreement (O-UDA).

Location data for geo-privacy research

Microsoft researcher John Krumm and collaborators collected GPS data from 21 people who carried a GPS receiver in the Seattle area. Users who provided their data agreed to it being shared as long as certain geographic regions were deleted. This work covers key research on privacy preservation of GPS data as evidenced in the corresponding paper, “Exploring End User Preferences for Location Obfuscation, Location-Based Services, and the Value of Location,” which was accepted at the Twelfth ACM International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2010). The paper has been cited 147 times, including for research that builds upon this work to further the field of preservation of geo-privacy for location-based services providers.

Hand gestures data for computer vision

Another example dataset is that of labeled hand images and video clips collected by researchers Eyal Krupka, Kfir Karmon, and others. The research addresses an important computer vision and machine learning problem that deals with developing a hand-gesture-based interface language. The data was recorded using depth cameras and has labels that cover joints and fingertips. The two datasets included are FingersData, which contains 3,500 labeled depth frames of various hand poses, and GestureClips, which contains 140 gesture clips (100 of these contain labeled hand gestures and 40 contain non-gesture activity). The research associated with this dataset is available in the paper “Toward Realistic Hands Gesture Interface: Keeping it Simple for Developers and Machines,” which was published in Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Question-Answer data for machine reading comprehension

Finally, the FigureQA dataset generated by researchers Samira Ebrahimi Kahou, Adam Atkinson, Adam Trischler, Yoshua Bengio and collaborators, introduces a visual reasoning task for research that is specific to graphical plots and figures. The dataset has 180,000 figures with 1.3 million question-answer pairs in the training set. More details about the dataset are available in the paper “FigureQA: An Annotated Figure Dataset for Visual Reasoning” and corresponding Microsoft Research Blog post. The dataset is pivotal to developing more powerful visual question answering and reasoning models, which potentially improve accuracy of AI systems that are involved in decision making based on charts and graphs.

The data agreements are a part of our larger goals

Microsoft Research Open Data project was conceived from the start to reflect Microsoft Research’s commitment to fostering open science and research and to achieve this without compromising the ethics of collecting and sharing data. Our goal is to make it easier for researchers to maintain provenance of data while having the ability to reference and build upon it.

The addition of the new data agreements to Microsoft Research Open Data’s feature set is an exciting step in furthering our mission.

Acknowledgements: This work would not have been possible without the substantial team effort by — Dave Green, Justin Colannino, Gretchen Deo, Sarah Kim, Emily McReynolds, Mario Madden, Emily Schlesinger, Elaine Peterson, Leila Stevenson, Dave Baskin, and Sergio Loscialo.

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Can AI help save penguins? How Gramener is building tools to protect species from extinction

Working on Microsoft Azure platform, Mohanty and his colleagues used a Convolutional Neural Network model to come up with a solution that can identify and count penguins with a high degree of accuracy. The model can potentially help researchers speed up their studies around the status of penguin populations.

The team is now working on the classification, identification and counting of other species using similar deep learning techniques.

Building AI to save the planet

A long-time Microsoft partner headquartered in Hyderabad in India, Gramener is not new to leveraging AI for social good using Microsoft Azure. It was one of the earliest partners for Microsoft’s AI for Earth program announced in 2017.

“I believe that AI can help make the world a better place by accelerating biodiversity conservation and help solve the biggest environmental challenges we face today. When we came to know about Microsoft’s AI for Earth program over two years ago, we reached out to Microsoft as we wanted to find ways to partner and help with our expertise,” says Kesari.

While the program was still in its infancy, the teams from Gramener and Microsoft worked jointly to come up with quick projects to showcase what’s possible with AI and inspire those out there in the field. They started with a proof of concept for identifying flora and fauna species in a photograph.

“We worked more like an experimentation arm working with the team led by Lucas Joppa (Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer, and founder of AI for Earth). We built a model, using data available from iNaturalist, that could classify thousands of different species with 80 percent accuracy,” Kesari reveals.

Another proof of concept revolved around camera traps that are used for biodiversity studies in forests. The camera traps take multiple images whenever they detect motion, which leads to a large number of photos that had to be scanned manually.

Soumya Ranjan Mohanty, Lead Data Scientist, Gramener
Soumya Ranjan Mohanty, Lead Data Scientist, Gramener

“Most camera trap photos are blank as they don’t have any animal in the frame. Even in the frames that do, often the animal is too close to be identified or the photo is blurry,” says Mohanty, who also leads the AI for Earth partnership from Gramener.

The team came up with a two-step solution that first weeds out unusable images and then uses a deep learning model to classify images that have an animal in them. This solution too was converted by the Microsoft team into what is now the Camera Trap API that AI for Earth grantees or anyone can freely use.

“AI is critical to conservation because we simply don’t have time to wait for humans to annotate millions of images before we can answer wildlife population questions. For the same reason, we need to rapidly prototype AI applications for conservation, and it’s been fantastic to have Gramener on board as our ‘advanced development team’,” says Dan Morris, principal scientist and program director for Microsoft’s AI for Earth program.

Anticipating the needs of grantees, Gramener and Microsoft have also worked on creating other APIs, like the Land Cover Mapping API that leverages machine learning to provide high-resolution land cover information. These APIs are now part of the public technical resources available for AI for Earth grantees or anyone to use, to accelerate their projects without having to build the base model themselves.

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Computer Science Education Week begins Dec. 9: Here’s how to teach students to code with Minecraft

Computer Science Education Week is almost here, and we’re more excited than ever about teaching students to code with Minecraft. Schools, nonprofits, and Microsoft Stores around the world are running Hour of Code events as people of all ages learn the basics of coding. The new Minecraft Hour of Code lesson aligns with this year’s theme, Computer Science for Good. Learn how coding can help build a better world—in just one hour!

For the first time, the Minecraft Hour of Code is available for free in Minecraft: Education Edition in more than 20 languages. Students will explore coding and artificial intelligence as they protect a village from forest fires in an immersive Minecraft world. The lesson is based on a real-world example of AI used for conservation, inspired by a Microsoft AI for Earth project.

Anyone with a Windows device, Mac, or iPad can download the app and try coding in Minecraft—no license required. If you’re licensed through Office 365, you can sign in with your school account. If you haven’t had access to Minecraft: Education Edition in the past, this is a simple and fun way to give it a try!

HOW TO RUN AN HOUR OF CODE

Here are some helpful resources we’ve assembled to make sure your experience goes smoothly:

  • For new users: Download Minecraft: Education Edition. When you open the app, start the demo lesson to enter the Hour of Code world and start coding!
  • For licensed users: If you’re already updated to the latest version of Minecraft: Education Edition, the lesson will be in your in-game library. But if you’d like help making sure you’re using the right version of the game or your IT admin has questions, check out this helpful support article.
  • Lesson plan: Once you’re all set up, head to the Hour of Code lesson page to find the lesson plan in more than 20 languages and a solutions guide. Watch the walkthrough video for a full tour of the lesson.
  • Further support: For further support, here’s a step-by-step guide to the entire experience of accessing and playing the Hour of code lesson. To answer any lingering questions, take a look at our FAQ.

There are lots of ways you can get involved in Computer Science Education Week in addition to facilitating an Hour of Code in your classroom or community:

CODING LESSONS & CURRICULUM

It’s important that we create opportunities for students to explore Computer Science—not only because future jobs will require these skills, but also to ensure students don’t get left behind when it comes to STEM education. Minecraft engages students of all ages in STEM, and the Code Builder tool allows learners to use block-based coding and JavaScript, then see their code come to life in-game.

Minecraft: Education Edition offers tons of resources to help teachers and students get started with computer science, from free lessons and teacher training to 50 hours of CSTA-based curriculum. Discover how you can teach coding across the curriculum and inspire students to go beyond an Hour of Code in Minecraft.

We can’t wait for a week of learning, exploration, and inspiring students to build a better world with the power of code!

The post Code with Minecraft for Computer Science Education Week appeared first on Minecraft: Education Edition.

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Coming soon to Xbox Game Pass for Console: Halo: Reach, Tom Clancy’s The Division and more

As a kid, I would park myself in front of the TV to play games,
usually close enough that I could reach out and put my grubby hands on the screen.
My father, probably frustrated that he couldn‘t watch TV for dads, like extreme
professional lawn mowing tournaments or something, always said that when I grew
into an adult, I wouldn’t care about playing games anymore. How very wrong he
was.

I’m sure you’re with me. Not only do I still play games, I still
love to play some of the same ones I did back then (Halo: Reach anybody? Age of
Empires II
?). I play games based on cartoons; I make Spotify playlists of
best video game soundtracks (which – reminder! You can get 6 months of Spotify
Premium, and 1 month of EA Access and 3 months of Discord Nitro with your Xbox
Game Pass Ultimate membership right now), and I still sometimes put my grubby
hands on the screen.

Enough with
memory lane, let’s get to the games!

December 5

My Friend Pedro (ID@Xbox)
A violent ballet about friendship, imagination, and one man’s struggle to obliterate anyone in his path at the command of a conscious banana. The strategic use of split aiming, slow motion, and the stylish window breach create one sensational action sequence after another in an explosive battle through the criminal underworld.

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker
The Naruto franchise is back with a brand-new experience in Naruto to Boruto: Shiobi Striker! This new game lets gamers battle as a team of four to compete against other teams online! Shinobi Striker is built from the ground up in a completely new graphic style. Lead your team and fight online to see who the best ninjas are!

December 6

Demon’s Tilt (ID@Xbox Day One Launch)
A tribute to ‘90s video pinball games, featuring modern effects and mechanics—including bosses, secrets, and unprecedented depth to please video gamers and hardcore pinball enthusiasts alike. Now with bigger sprites, more baddies, more secrets, and more bullets! Demon’s Tilt pushes the limits of the video pinball genre with Shmup & Hack N’ Slash elements.

Wandersong (ID@Xbox Day One Launch)
A musical platforming adventure with an emotional story. Play as a silly bard and use music to interact with everything on a journey around the world. Along the way you’ll explore, solve puzzles, and meet a huge cast of characters.

December 12

eFootball PES 2020
Experience the most realistic and authentic soccer game with eFootball PES 2020! Play with the biggest teams in world soccer, featuring Spanish champions FC Barcelona, global giants Manchester United, German champions FC Bayern München, and Italian champions Juventus — featured exclusively in PES!

Overcooked! 2 (ID@Xbox)
Overcooked returns with a brand-new helping of chaotic cooking action! Journey back to the Onion Kingdom and assemble your team of chefs in classic couch co-op or online play for up to four players. Hold onto your aprons … it’s time to save the world (again!)

Pathologic 2 (ID@Xbox Day One Launch)
A narrative-driven dramatic thriller about fighting a deadly outbreak in a secluded rural town. Face the realities of a collapsing society as you make difficult choices in seemingly lose-lose situations in this groundbreaking open-world horror RPG.

Tom Clancy’s The Division
A revolutionary next-gen experience that brings the RPG into a modern military setting for the first time. In the wake of a devastating pandemic that sweeps through New York City, basic services fail one by one, and without access to food or water the city descends into chaos. As an agent of The Division, you’ll specialize, modify, and level up your gear, weapons, and skills to take back New York.

In Case You Missed It: Even More Games

Coming as a complete shock to no one, we added more games earlier this month too! You might have missed it between the absolute monster bucket of games we announced at X019, and now. Here’s our latest drop:

November 19

Munchkin: Quacked Quest (ID@Xbox Day One Launch)
A dungeon crawler with all the humor, puns, and ducks from the hit card game Munchkin by Steve Jackson. Take down your enemies and your “allies” while gathering gold and get to the top by sacrificing foes (and friends) in pits. Grab your Rat-on-a-Stick or a Flare Gun and prepare for the rampaging hordes of monsters and friends you may have just thrown into a sacrifice pit.

November 26

The Escapists 2 (ID@Xbox)
Craft, steal, brawl, and escape! It’s time to bust out of the toughest prisons in the world as you return to the life of an inmate in The Escapists 2. Explore the biggest prisons yet with multiple floors, roofs, vents, and underground tunnels. Live by the prison rules, attending roll call, doing prison jobs and following strict routines, all the while secretly engineering your bid for freedom!

December 3

Halo: Reach (Console and PC)
Halo: Reach for Halo: The Master Chief Collection comes to the Xbox One and for the first time ever: Windows 10 PC. Looking better than ever Halo: Reach includes up to 4K UHD resolution and HDR on Xbox One X consoles. Experience the tragic and heroic story of Noble Team, who through great sacrifice and courage saved countless lives in the face of impossible odds. Enjoy iconic Halo multiplayer experiences with generation-defining player customization, unforgettable maps and classic game modes.

Member Benefits & Game Updates

  • EA Access,
    Discord Nitro, and Spotify Premium Codes
     available
    for new and eligible current members that sign up
    for just $1 for the first 3 months. Terms and conditions apply.  
  • Sea
    of Thieves
    :
    Seabound Soul
    This free update features new lore-based
    tales with Captain Pendragon, the Ashen Dragon, and firebombs! Who doesn’t like
    putting fiery panic in the hearts of your opposing crews in Adventure and in
    the Arena?
  • Dead by Daylight: Cursed Legacy update released on
    December 3, including free map and more.
  • Gears
    5
    eSports supporter pack is available for
    purchase now and is eligible for the exclusive Xbox Game Pass discount. Get
    ready for the next
    eSports event on December 6
    .

Xbox Game Pass Quests

You were going to play the games anyways, time to get some extra points for it. You can open the Microsoft Rewards app and you’ll see a green checkmark with any Quest you’ve completed. Here’s what is on deck for your next quests:

  • Elf Quest
    • Complete any Game Pass Quest between December 2 and 15 and get a rental of Elf on us!

Game Pass Quests from December 2 through January 6 include

  • Biggest Games of 2019  
    • Earn any achievement from our Biggest Games of the Year collection and get 100 points. See eligible games here.
  • Rage 2  
    • Complete 2 achievements in RAGE 2 to earn 200 points.
  • Subnautica  
    • Complete 2 achievements in Subnautica to earn 200 points.
  • ID@Xbox  
    • Earn 3 achievements in any ID@Xbox game and get 300 points. See eligible games here.
  • Play Something New  
    • Earn 1 achievement in any of these new games released and get 100 points. See eligible games here.

Leaving Soon

It’s sad to see games go as we bring in new ones, we know. If you love these games and aren’t ready to say goodbye, you can buy any game that’s leaving soon before they leave on December 13 at up to 20% off.

  • Ashen
  • Life is Strange:
    Before the Storm
  • Life is Strange
    Season 1
  • Pro Evolution Soccer
    2019

In
closing: A bucket of games coming soon to our library (many you can play right now
by using the Xbox app to download from
wherever you are for both console and PC), discounts on games, free updates to
others, and quests to earn points in games you were probably going to play
anyways (might as well get some rewards out of it). Anything not in that list,
we’ll make a meme of it on Twitter or Instagram.

If
you’re not a member yet, but want to check out the these great games, try your first three months of Xbox Game Pass
Ultimate for just $1
. Good luck getting through all these games!