The 12th Annual Paris C. Kanellakis Distinguished Lecture


"Differential Privacy: Thwarting Big Data's Evil Twin"

Cynthia Dwork, Microsoft Research

Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 4:00 P.M.

Room 368 (CIT 3rd Floor)

The problem of how to reveal accurate statistics about a population, while still preserving the privacy of individuals, has a venerable history, with an extensive literature spanning statistics, theoretical computer science, security, databases, and cryptography. What has changed is the scale, and ad hoc definitions and methods no longer suffice.

Differential privacy is a rigorous and "ad omnia" definition of privacy that, intuitively, hides the presence or absence of any individual, or small group of individuals, in the data set. Unlike many previous definitions, differential privacy is not binary; instead, privacy loss is quantified, and can be controlled. This quantification, together with powerful composition theorems, permits complex private analyses to be constructed from simple differentially private primitives, or "building blocks." Based on this infrastructure, and enabled by deep connections to learning theory, convex geometry, communication complexity, cryptography, and robust statistics, a large and rapidly increasing number of statistical analyses can be carried out in a differentially private manner, while preserving good statistical utility.

This talk will define differential privacy, describe some basic techniques, and present a recent result that echoes the speaker's first collaboration with her friend, Paris Kanellakis.

Cynthia Dwork, Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research, is widely known for placing privacy-preserving data analysis on a mathematically rigorous foundation. Dr. Dwork has also made seminal contributions in cryptography and distributed computing, and is a recipient of the Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize, recognizing some of her earliest work establishing the pillars on which every fault-tolerant system has been built for decades. She is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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This lecture series honors Paris Kanellakis, a distinguished computer scientist who was an esteemed and beloved member of the Brown Department of Computer Science. Paris joined the Department in 1981 and became a full professor in 1990. His research area was theoretical computer science, with emphasis on the principles of database systems, logic in computer science, the principles of distributed computing and combinatorial optimization. He died in an airplane crash on December 20, 1995, along with his wife, Maria Teresa Otoya, and their two young children, Alexandra and Stephanos Kanellakis.

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A reception will follow.

Host: Maurice Herlihy