I recently had my final week working in the data center planning side of Google. July would have marked five years of my focus on integer linear programming, modeling data center planning problems as such, and building supporting infrastructure to help explain and understand optimization models.
I’ve decided to transition to a more ambitious and challenging role in cryptography, still at Google. Specifically, I’ll be joining Shruthi Gorantala and Cathie Yun (and a variety of community contributors) on a mission to bring Fully Homomorphic Encryption (FHE) to production systems. Last year Shruthi and her collaborators open-sourced a transpiler (associated paper) that accepts as input a subset of C++ programs and produces as output an equivalent program that operates on ciphertexts in the Torus-FHE scheme. The team has big ambitions, which I can’t disclose yet, but my role will be closer to my mathematical expertise and passion than my current role.
Working on FHE will be something of a dream come true, and a once in a lifetime opportunity. FHE was discovered to be possible around the same time I discovered mathematics as a passion (2009). When I learned about it in the intervening years, it was still not considered efficient enough to be practical. Today, through the sweat and tears of incremental progress on multiple research avenues, it seems we (humanity) are on the cusp of being able to make FHE practical enough for useful applications, with the right combination of software ingenuity, hardware accelerators, and fine tuning. Combine that with Google’s iteratively improving culture around privacy, and it’s clear that now is the best time to get involved at the forefronts of privacy innovation. These formerly theoretical breakthroughs will soon be ready for production.
With so much of the cryptography ecosystem usurped by fraud, Ponzi schemes, and extremist politics, it’s refreshing to immerse myself in a side of that field that feels unambiguously wholesome. In past newsletters I’ve hinted at the question that Jenny Odell posed in her book, How to do Nothing, namely, “What’s it all for?” When I think about software reliability and “five 9’s,” the only realistic answer I can think of is, “Keep people shopping on Black Friday.” Or when I think about social media, it nags me to think it’s keeping your eyes glued to YouTube/Netflix, Twitter outrage, TikTok, or conspiracy theory Facebook groups, ultimately all for shallow engagement metrics and more ad clicks.