Shafi Goldwasser to speak on ‘beautiful’ cryptography theory

MIT professor to explore risks and benefits of ‘big data’ in Hamilton Lecture in Dublin

Masses of information is collected every day by governments, companies and agencies. The question of what they hold on you and how best to protect your privacy in a big data world will be discussed tonight at the annual Hamilton Lecture, organised by the Royal Irish Academy and sponsored by Arup and The Irish Times.

Prof Shafi Goldwasser of MIT and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, will detail how messages and images across Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat and where you go on the web – and also on the ground via GPS – are saved in huge banks of servers.

But why is this data being held and how do we, as the source of this data, control how it is being used? One answer lies in the developing mathematical science of cryptography. It "has changed how we think of proofs, secrets and information", Prof Goldwasser says.

The Hamilton Lecture commemorates the discovery on October 16th, 1843, of a new kind of algebra by Ireland's greatest mathematical scientist, William Rowan Hamilton. His discovery is today used to control satellites and to define the positioning of objects in computer games such as Tomb Raider and in other applications linked to movement in 3-d space.


Prof Goldwasser says there have been some “beautiful developments” in the theory of cyrptography and the role it can play as we move from local to global computation.

“My lecture will be on the tension between utility of big data and the risks it presents to our privacy, fairness and in general the right to be left alone,” says Prof Goldwasser.

Places at the lecture are free of charge but must be booked. Contact the Royal Irish Academy on 01-6090600.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.