People of ACM - Bruke Kifle

July 13, 2023

How did you initially decide you wanted to pursue a career in computing?

My journey has been driven by a combination of curiosity, practical experiences, and a deep fascination with the potential of computing to solve complex problems and positively impact society. As I progressed through school, I realized that math and science were great ways to explore and understand the world around me. At home, I found myself naturally inclined towards hands-on tasks, which sparked my interest in engineering and problem-solving. These experiences, both within the classroom and at home, nurtured a deep-seated interest in understanding how things worked, ultimately leading me to pursue my studies at MIT.

While at MIT, I was captivated by the cutting-edge research and potential for significant positive impact through computing technologies. After enrolling in my first programming and algorithms courses, I was amazed at how computing could be used to solve complex problems. I found joy in computational and algorithmic thinking, and excitement in the realization that I could develop software products capable of reaching millions of users. After seeking guidance from countless mentors within the computing industry, my first software internship which provided me hands-on experience, and delving deeper into my studies I became increasingly certain that pursuing a career in computing was the best choice for me and my life goals.

What has been one of the more exciting recent projects you have worked on at Microsoft?

One project that stands out is the number of advancements we’ve made to the Question-Answering system (also commonly known as featured snippets) in Microsoft Bing.

To provide some context, advancements in AI have brought significant improvements in search quality. Moving beyond simple keyword-based techniques, we now leverage deep learning to understand the semantic meaning behind users' queries and deliver the most relevant results. At the same rate, we have witnessed a shift in user search patterns over time, with more users increasingly asking questions and seeking answers to their questions, rather than just links to search results. To address this demand, we harnessed the power of large language models (LLMs) to enhance the Question-Answer experience on Bing. One notable feature we introduced is a summarization capability that draws from diverse sources to provide users with comprehensive and multi-perspective answers. This enriched experience has been made available to users worldwide, ensuring that everyone can benefit from its value. If you think about some of the benefits of this new capability, offering comprehensive, multi-perspective answers enables us to mitigate concerns related to misinformation and the limitations of relying on a single source. As a search engine, we strive to leverage technological advancements to provide our users with the best possible information, recognizing that we are not arbiters of truth.

Working on this project has been both challenging and rewarding, as it involves leveraging cutting-edge technologies to enhance the search experience for millions of users. It has been immensely gratifying to contribute to the evolution of search and to witness the positive impact it has on users' access to information.

You have also described yourself as an “Afro-Optimist.” What did you mean by this? What are the most significant challenges and opportunities with respect to how computing technology can/will shape Africa’s future?

As an "Afro-Optimist," I embrace a positive outlook on Africa's potential for growth and development. Born in Ethiopia and immigrating to the USA at a young age, I witnessed firsthand the disparities in opportunities and resources on a global scale. This journey fueled my belief in the transformative power of technology to bridge these gaps and provide equal chances for progress across various sectors.

Africa indeed faces significant challenges, including infrastructure limitations, connectivity gaps, and low levels of digital literacy. These hurdles must be addressed to fully leverage the potential of computing technology. However, Africa's projected status as the world's fastest-growing region, combined with its youthful population, is a remarkable advantage. With approximately 70% of sub-Saharan Africa's population under the age of 30, there is an abundance of talent and untapped potential. By investing in computing technologies and digital infrastructure, we can unlock opportunities for education, healthcare, and economic empowerment. Promising advancements in areas like language and vision models and generative AI hold tremendous promise. They can revolutionize healthcare delivery, bringing quality medical services to underserved communities. Similarly, technology-enabled education initiatives can bridge the gap in access to knowledge and provide learning opportunities to those who might otherwise be left behind. To seize these opportunities, it is essential to prioritize investment in critical areas, including infrastructure development, improved connectivity, and digital literacy programs. By empowering individuals with the necessary skills and resources, we can enable them to contribute to their communities and participate fully in the digital era.

With so many technology podcasts available, what makes ByteCast unique? How has serving as a co-host been a rewarding experience?

What sets ByteCast apart from other technology podcasts is our unique approach of not only delving into the technical contributions of our guests, but also exploring their personal journeys and visions for the future. We invite luminaries in their respective fields to join us as guests, providing them with a platform to share their insights, inspire the next generation of computing professionals, and motivate future thought leaders.

Being a co-host for ByteCast has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Through interviews with renowned professors, researchers, innovators, and founders, I have had the opportunity to go beyond their impressive resumes and research papers, getting to know them as individuals and understanding their human stories. It has also allowed me to explore diverse areas of computing that lie beyond my primary focus and tap into the brilliant minds of our guests. I have been privileged to learn from their unique perspectives, insights, and visions for the future.

Overall, ByteCast seeks to serve as a platform to share knowledge and inspire. I invite everyone to give ByteCast a listen and discover the stories, ideas, and inspiration shared by some of the brightest minds in the field of computing!

Bruke Kifle is an AI Product Manager at Microsoft Turing, a team pushing the limits of natural language understanding, machine learning, and computer vision to address diverse business problems across the Microsoft ecosystem. His research interests include the interplay between artificial intelligence, business, ethics, and society. Kifle is also interested in opportunities to enhance human conditions in underserved communities through innovative technical solutions. He identifies as a socio-technologist whose goal is to leverage technology to empower individuals and uplift societies worldwide.

Kifle serves as a member of the ACM Practitioner Board and is one of the co-hosts of ACM ByteCast, a podcast series from the ACM Practitioner Board in which researchers, practitioners, and innovators who are at the intersection of computing research and practice share their experiences.