Photo: Flickr / jive667
Like most major tech companies, Microsoft has a big research division geared toward solving some of the most complicated problems in computing.But Microsoft is also spending a lot of time and money employing scientists to solve other problems — like why scammers always say they are from Nigeria.
We went through Microsoft’s research archive to find some of the most interesting projects that are, at first glance, completely unrelated to technology.
Organic species that are able to keep track of the day and night cycle of the planet have a natural advantage over other species that have fewer ways to keep track of that.
As a result, organic life has evolved to have a better sense of the day and night cycle at a biological level.
Microsoft researchers, using a process derived from video analysis, measured social behaviour and aspects of conversations.
The goal was to divine some way to gauge the experience of an individual in a conversation. It turns out that it is easy to algorithmically spot a speaker with experience based on the way they speak and how often they speak.
The most successful celebrities reveal what appears to be a personal information to create a sense of intimacy between participants and followers, according to a big study from Microsoft.
It's supposed to create a sort of candid conversational experience with a celebrity, which in turn leads to a more popular celebrity Twitter account.
File this one under 'duh.'
Scammers employ an unorthodox way to spot the most gullible people on the Internet -- they create really silly pitches in the hopes of snatching the dumbest marks.
It's a self-made weed-out process that scammers employ to reduce the occurrence of 'false positives' and spend less time interacting with marks that won't net a reward.
Plants with smaller seeds are often reported to grow faster than plants with larger seeds.
But this isn't because the plant has a small seed -- it's because it possesses additional adaptations for quick growth compared to plants with larger seeds.
Families often pass down traditional heirlooms, like a pair of earrings, a wedding dress or a family photo album.
But how could you pass those heirlooms down digitally?
Microsoft researchers found that families desired to treat heirlooms and archives in ways that aren't yet fully supported by technology -- and might fight the process.
You have the password to a bank account of a billionaire. Now what?
It turns out that having a password isn't the bottleneck in the process of emptying a bank account -- instead, it's just a very small part of the process.
The more important part is isolating mule accounts that accept bad transfers and initiate good transfers.
So, stealing a password is going to do pretty much nothing for you.
How do you share a photo during a meal?
Don't worry -- this is apparently a big, outstanding social question, and Microsoft is here to answer it for you.
When you look at a photo during a meal, it's going to invoke some sort of personal memory. Basically, you're going to bring it up in conversation.
Using a giant collection of unorganized photos for a given city on photo-sharing sites, Microsoft researched ways to literally rebuild a city.
The result was a 3D geometrical model of that city -- showing you can reconstruct an accurate model with city-scale image collections of hundreds of thousands of images.
By collecting a ton of data from GPS units in taxis, Microsoft is working on a system that determines the best place to stand to hail a cab.
That'll be useful for places like New York, where you usually have to take your chances when hailing a cab in the street. It can take a few minutes or upwards of 20 minutes, depending on the time.
If you want to understand the variation of body sizes in a given ecosystem, you need to understand the foraging behaviour of the species in that environment, according to one Microsoft paper.
Body size distribution also has a lot of influence on how links between different scales of communities -- from an individual, to a community, to a city -- also operate.
There are complex versions of 'capture the flag' and 'king of the hill' In an online game called World of Warcraft -- a fantasy world where you kill each other with swords and spells.
Microsoft took the time to study the movement of big groups in these games -- which can have upwards of 20 people per match -- and found that most individuals do not move as groups, but as individuals.