A pair of MIT professors and security researchers whose work paved the way for modern cryptography have been named winners of the 2012 A.M. Turing Award, also known as the "Nobel Prize in Computing."
Shafi Goldwasser, the RSA professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and Silvio Micali, the MIT Ford professor of engineering, are recipients of the award, which will be formally presented by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) on June 15 in San Francisco.
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According to the ACM: "By formalizing the concept that cryptographic security had to be computational rather than absolute, they created mathematical structures that turned cryptography from an art into a science. Their work addresses important practical problems such as the protection of data from being viewed or modified, providing a secure means of communications and transactions over the Internet. Their advances led to the notion of interactive and probabalistic proofs and had a profound impact on computational complexity, an area that focuses on classifying computational problems according to their inherent difficulty." (Among their works: the paper "Probabalistic Encryption," written as grad students in 2003.)
Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf, current ACM president, said in a statement that Goldwasser and Micali's ideas have had an impact on everything from the encryption schemes in today's Web browsers to credit card encryption for e-commerce. "We are indebted to these recipients for their innovative approaches to ensuring security in the digital age," he said.
Both recipients, who have worked together on the mathematical foundations of cryptography, are also principal investigators at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). They have followed in the big footsteps of past Turing Award winners and MIT cryptography pioneers Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman (the R, S and A of RSA public-key cryptography algorithm). Other past winners include Cerf himself, as well as "Father of the Mouse" Doug Engelbart and last year, AI expert Judea Pearl.
Both Goldwasser and Micali or no strangers to receiving recognitions in their field, with both elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. Goldwasser has also won the ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award for outstanding young computer professional and received the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. Micali's other honors include the RSA Mathematics Award and Berkeley Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award.
The Turing Award carries with it a $250,000 prize (divvied up by this year's winners), with financial support from Google and Intel.
Last year was an especially big year for all things Turing, as Alan Turing would have been 100 years old, and the ACM and others celebrated his accomplishments in a variety of ways.