Wednesday, October 8, 2014

GHC14: Keynote - Dr. Shafi Goldwasser
Huma Hamid12:20 PM 0 comments

First day, first session and first keynote by Shafi Goldwasser, winner of the 2012 ACM Turing Award. Shafi Goldwasser is the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. She is also a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. I am really excited to be present at her session and blogging about it live from the Phoenix Convention Center, Phoenix, AZ. 
Photo Credits: 
“Seeing young women at the Grace Hopper Conference this year reminds me of my first time attending a conference in 1982, while I was at UC Berkley. It is hard to imagine that 8K people, let alone women to be together to attend a conference, but I think GHC has come a long way.” said Dr. Shafi Goldwasser, the keynote speaker. I completely agree with Dr. Shafi that this huge number of almost 8K women computer scientists together under one roof is not only impressive, but also history in making.
In her keynote speech, Dr. Shafi’s talked about cryptography, with an emphasis on using cryptographic lens to analyze the theoretical side of computer science. This topic for keynote speech was a little surprising for me and I am not an expert in cryptography, so I had pay special attention to capture what Dr. Shafi shared during her keynote session at the GHC session. Historically, cryptography is deeply rooted into both Engineering and Computer Science studies. Initial research on cryptography by Claude Shannon and Alan Turing was mostly motivated and inspired by the war efforts. However, the modern cryptography is motivated by economics. It is not about fighting the bad guys, but purely focused on the correctness and privacy of computation. During her talk, Dr. Shafi discussed the three main things related to cryptography, which I am going to share here. According to Dr. Shafi, cryptography as an enabler of surprising abilities, a catalyst which leads to a series of intellectual leaps in theory of computation, and the future of modern cryptography. She shared the following surprising or Paradoxical Abilities for which cryptography has served as an enabler:
  • Exchanging secret messages
  • Contract signing
  • Proving theorem
  • Playing digital games without refries
  • Private information retrieval
  • One time program
  • Computations on encrypted data
  • Executing encrypted programs
She mentioned that even though the list looks pretty long, but it represents one unifying theme, the presence of an adversary. For readers who are new to cryptography, an adversary is a malicious entity whose aim is to prevent the users of the crypto-system from achieving their goal (primarily privacy, integrity, and availability of data). In cryptography this is an adversary, who actually determines the power of a cryptographic solution.

Dr. Shafi also shared the two ways a cryptographic expert would solve the cryptographic problems:

Axiom 1: Computationally distinguishability
Axiom 2: If you can simulate, might as well stay at home

Dr. Shafi highlighted that the modern cryptography is a driving force of innovation in many areas. Some of those areas are probabilistic proof systems, randomness, algorithmic coding theory and average case hardness. Now, it is possible to compute and verify results of a theorem without looking at the proofs. She also emphasized that given the number of research opportunities in modern cryptography, students pick their research areas based on their interests. Currently, cloud computing is facing  a number of challenges related to privacy and computing, therefore offers a lot of research areas to be explored. In cloud computing fairness, control and privacy of data are of tremendous importance. The biggest challenge faced by the cloud computing is to perform computations on encrypted data. For better computation, data needs not to be encrypted, but then it becomes a privacy issue. Therefore, verification of result without seeing proof and computation of result without seeing result becomes the hardest part. These two issues can be resolved using modern cryptography, where verification of result can be done without seeing a proof and thus, data privacy can stay intact. The technique where useful information can be extracted from encrypted data, without actually seeing it is called Functional Encryption. This is currently an active area of research in cryptography. Financial and healthcare industries are the best examples of sharing information with others for collective benefit, without losing individual advantage, is also an interesting research in cryptography. This is when a bank needs access to the information extracted by other banks for the great benefit of the financial industry, without actually looking at the actual data collected by them. The is called big data, which can be solved through crypto-box tools. 

So, the overall take away from Dr. Shafi's keynote was to think more ways where issues related to data privacy, efficiency of computation and correctness of big data can be resolves through the use of cryptographic lens. She also offers her help to students interested in research areas related to cryptography. 

At the end of the session, there were a few questions asked by the student. I was able to hear only one question. 

Question: How can a person with no or little background in cryptography can get into research areas mentioned by Dr. Shafi. 

Answer: Best sources are books and online courses of course. Read research papers, talk to other people in this field or just email her for more information. 

At the end of this session, I felt that how amazing it is to have women like Dr. Shafi doing ground breaking research work in their domains, which is not only an inspiration for other females engineers but also for male engineers in computing. Thank you Dr. Shadi for being so awesome!

About The Author H. Hamid For more information about the author, see About section. You can follow her onTwitter and connect to her on LinkedIn


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