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Data and Trust: Interview with Rina Shainski and Shafi Goldwasser

Two Duality Technologies co-founders, Rina Shainski and Shafi Goldwasser, recently met to discuss cryptography. A two-time Gödel Prize and Turing Award winner, Goldwasser tells of her early interest and beginnings in the field. They then examine why the field has become so important in recent years and how Duality facilitates privacy in an increasingly data driven world.

Rina Shainski: What piqued your interest in cryptography, data privacy, and digital secrets as the key areas of your research?

Shafi Goldwasser: My interest in cryptography and similar fields began many years ago, in the 80s, when I was a graduate student at Berkeley. From the start, cryptography was the central thread of my research. The first time I was presented with material from this field was a paper called On Breaking the Iterated Merkle-Hellman Public Key Cryptosystem. At that time I didn’t know what to do with this information. About a year later, I took a class with Manuel Blum, my thesis advisor, on number theory. The last two lectures of this class were dedicated to Hellman’s paper, New Directions in Cryptography, and an introduction to RSA cryptography. At this point, I became fascinated with basic number theory problems, like making sure a coin is 50-50 – a fair coin. The idea that one can use number theory to emulate real-world problems excited me and drew me into the field. From there, the problems became much more abstract. For example, how can one encrypt a single bit? Fast-forwarding to current times at Duality, questions like this one are extremely important because we need to be able to represent 0s and 1s to successfully compute on encryptions. This field has evolved to ask the question how you can achieve privacy, utility, and independence of inputs among many parties? This can be answered using mathematics.

Shainski: Cryptography has risen to center stage in the past few years. It is playing a key role in blockchain technology, web3, and cryptocurrency. Buzzwords such as homomorphic encryption, multiparty computing, zero-knowledge, and public-key cryptography are now being used with a broader audience. What is your perspective on this rise in the public interest? What is driving the growing interest in cryptography?

Goldwasser: All of the buzzwords you mentioned have been technical possibilities since the 80s, except then, no one except academics knew about them. I think that this current expansion in the audience stems from two factors. First, the rise of cloud computing where computations occur outside of the local device has increased the need for these technologies. In the cloud, more complex computations can be done and we need to make sure that the security is there. Second, the fact that data is so important has increased people’s awareness of the intricacies of how data should be used. We need to protect our data, but we must also realize how much can be learned from our data. Accessing and analyzing the data from a market is essential in understanding that market. At the same time, the privacy concerns of data have brought a lot more attention to how we can get utility out of information while maintaining privacy. Duality has exactly that technology to perform analytics while maintaining data privacy and gaining much more information via the collaboration between multiple parties.

Shainski: I completely agree. It seems that organizations now realize that there is a lot to gain by collaboration on data but they want to do it now in a new way, not via intermediaries that aggregate lots of their data and gain as a result huge market power.  There is a strong push in favor of a new role for intermediaries that can coordinate data collaboration and orchestrate analyses without gaining the knowledge of that data and the market power that comes with it. 

Goldwasser:  Absolutely! This was exactly the essence of the first problem of the “coin flip” – to do it without an intermediary. To do collaborative analytics more efficiently we need an intermediary that doesn’t learn anything, who just facilitates the interactions and ensures that all sensitive data is kept private.

Shainski: If you now look at Duality and Duality’s role as a company to make this coordination possible, where do you think we are in the process?

Goldwasser: We have the technology, mathematically and engineering-wise. We have the platform to do collaborative analytics. Our challenge is not only to facilitate what’s being done today, but to facilitate what’s not done yet and to show how this will increase revenue for all parties. We have the people that are best suited to do this correctly and responsibly. I completely believe in our mission and the power of our platform in increasing efficiency in many different markets. 

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