Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus directors

(Photo credit: ACM)

Formally ending a search started in March 2016 (and a process started in the Fall of 2015), we are pleased to finally officially announce that Shafi Goldwasser will take over from Dick Karp as director of the Simons Institute for Computing on January 1st, and will return to Berkeley after a 30+ year hiatus.

Shafi is the co-inventor and developer of the notions semantic security in encryption; of zero-knowledge proofs; of pseudorandom functions; of the connection between PCP and hardness of approximation; and of property testing in sublinear algorithms, among others. She has received the Turing award for her work on cryptography and of two Gödel prizes for her work on complexity.

I cannot put in words how happy I am for the Berkeley community, including myself, and for the future of the Institute.

The director search was my first glimpse into how the Berkeley central campus bureaucracy operates, and it was horrifying. The simplest thing couldn’t be done without a sequence of authorities signing off on it, and each authority had a process for that, which involved asking for other things that other authorities had to sign off on, and so on in what at times seemed actual infinite descent.

The announcement linked above was in the works for at least three weeks!

Alistair Sinclair, after two terms as associate director of the Simons Institute, during which his heroic efforts were recognized with the SIGACT service award, also retired from his position at the Institute, and last July 1st was replaced by Berkeley professor Peter Bartlett, a noted pioneer of the study of neural networks.

This weekend, on Saturday, the Simons Institute will host the FOCS reception, which will double as celebration for Alistair’s prize. There will buses leaving the conference hotel at 6:45pm, and there will be plenty of food (and drinks!) at the Institute. There will also be buses taking people back to the hotel, although once you are in downtown Berkeley on a Saturday evening (bring a sweater) you may want to hang out a bit more and then take a rideshare service back to the hotel.


Habemus Bravium Turing

The foundations of cryptography were laid down in 1982, the annus mirabilis that saw the publications of the work of Blum and Micali on pseudorandom generators, of Goldwasser and Micali on rigorous definitions of encryption, and of Yao, who gave a more general definitional approach. The paper of Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali, in particular, introduced the incredibly influential concept of indistinguishability of distributions, and the idea of defining security in terms of simulation of an ideal model in which the security requirements are self-evident. (For example, because in the ideal model an adversary is not able to access the channel that we use to send encrypted data.) Almost every definition of security in cryptography follows the simulation approach, which also guides proofs of security. Shafi and Silvio both went on to do foundational work in cryptography, complexity theory, and algorithms, including their work on zero knowledge, secure multiparty computation, and property testing.

So it was with much joy, this early morning in Japan, that I heard the news that Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali have been named as recipients of this year’s Turing award.

Omer Reingold has more information about their work. With no offense to colleagues around my age and younger, Shafi and Silvio are also representative of a time when leading theoretical computer scientists were more interesting people. They both have incredible charisma.

My favorite memory of Shafi and Silvio is from the time I interviewed for a faculty job at MIT. Shafi was in the last weeks of her pregnancy and did not make an appointment to see me, but then the day of my interview she changed her mind and showed up in Silvio’s office halfway through my meeting with him.

Silvio had been looking at my schedule and was giving me advice on how to talk to various people. Shafi asked what we were talking about, and then proceeded to give the opposite advice that Silvio had been giving me. The two of them spent the rest of the meeting arguing with each other.