Cynthia Dwork

Cynthia Dwork

  • Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science
  • Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science
  • Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • Affiliated Faculty at Harvard Law School

Profile

Cynthia Dwork, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering, Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Affiliated Faculty at Harvard Law School, uses theoretical computer science to place societal problems on a firm mathematical foundation.

She was awarded the Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize in 2007 in recognition of some of her earliest work establishing the pillars on which every fault tolerant system has been built for a generation (Dwork, Lynch, and Stockmeyer, 1984).  

Her contributions to cryptography include the launching of non-malleable cryptography, the subfield of modern cryptography that studies -- and remedies -- the failures of cryptographic protocols to compose securely (Dolev, Dwork, and Naor, 1991).  She is a co-inventor of the first public-key cryptosystem based on lattices, the current best bet for cryptographic constructions that will remain secure even against quantum computers (Ajtai and Dwork, 1997). More recently, Dwork spearheaded a successful effort to place privacy-preserving analysis of data on a firm mathematical foundation.  A cornerstone of this effort is the invention of Differential Privacy (Dwork, McSherry, Nissim, and Smith, 2006, Dwork 2006), now the subject of intense activity in across many disciplines and recipient of the Theory of Cryptography Conference 2016 Test-of-Time award. With its introduction into Apple's iOS 10 (2016) and Google's Chrome browser (2014), differential privacy is just now beginning to be deployed on a global scale. 

Differentially private analyses enjoy a strong form of stability.  One consequence is statistical validity under adaptive (aka exploratory) data analysis, which is of great value even when privacy is not itself a concern (Dwork, Feldman, Hardt, Pitassi, Reingold, and Roth 2014, 2015a, 2015b).

Data, algorithms, and systems have biases embedded within them reflecting designers' explicit and implicit choices, historical biases, and societal priorities. They form, literally and inexorably, a codification of values.  Unfairness of algorithms -- for tasks ranging from advertising to recidivism prediction -- has recently attracted considerable attention in the popular press.  Anticipating these concerns, Dwork initiated a formal study of fairness in classification (Dwork, Hardt, Pitassi, Reingold, and Zemel, 2012).

Dwork is currently working in all of these last three areas (differential privacy, statistical validity in adaptive data analysis, and fairness in classification).

Dwork was educated at Princeton and Cornell.  She received her BSE (with honors) in electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton University, where she also received the Charles Ira Young Award for Excellence in Independent Research, the first woman ever to do so.  She received her MSc and PhD degrees in computer science at Cornell University. 

Dwork is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Engineering, and is a fellow of the ACM, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. 

Office Hours are Tuesday and Thursday, 2:00 - 2:30 PM.

Contact Information

Office:349 Maxwell Dworkin
Email:dwork@seas.harvard.edu
Office Phone:(617) 495-6860
Assistant:Kevin Doyle
Assistant Office:Maxwell Dworkin 111
Assistant Phone:617-496-6257

Primary Teaching Area

Positions & Employment

January, 2017 - Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering, the Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Professor by Affiliation at Harvard Law School

October, 2001 - present (on leave from January 1, 2017): Microsoft Research, Current Title: Distinguished Scientist

June, 2000 - October, 2001: Compaq Systems Research Center; Staff Fellow

August, 1985 - June, 2000: IBM Almaden Research Center, Research Staff Member

May, 1983 - May, 1985 Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, MIT Laboratory for Computer Science

Honors

Fellow of the American Philosophical Society, elected 2016

Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, elected 2016

Member of the National Academy of Sciences, elected 2014

Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, elected 2008

Member of the National Academy of Engineering, elected 2008

Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, elevated 2015

Theory of Cryptography Conference Test of Time Award, 2016

PET Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies, 2009

Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize, 2007

Charles Ira Young Tablet and Medal for Excellence in Independent Research, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Princeton University, 1979