E-Interview with Oded Goldreich - 2002
Special Topics, January 2002
What unexpected or serendipitous events arose in the course of your research?
Many research discoveries in my field have such a flavor. This is
probably due to the fact that the field is built upon abstract ideas
and is only limited by inherent truth (rather than by experimental
What role did practical support (facilities, funding, etc.) play?
Since my research is theoretical in nature, the only support I need is
a salary and a travel allowance. Travel is very important in my field,
which is based on ideas, because it provides exposure to new ideas (in
conferences and workshops) and allows for extensive interaction with
colleges having different perspectives.
How do you see the current state of affairs in your field and its
prospects for the future?
In contrast to "classical" Cryptography, which focuses on (the single
problem of) providing secret communication over insecure communication
media, modern Cryptography is concerned with a huge variety of
problems. In fact, modern Cryptography can be defined as the study of
arbitrary "abuse-resilient" systems; that is, systems that should
withstand malicious attempts to make them deviate from their
prescribed functionality. Established in the mid-1970s, modern
Cryptography has witnessed revolutionary developments culminating in
the emergence of methods for specifying and constructing general
"abuse-resilient" systems. Although these achievements are very
impressive, many fundamental gaps are left both in the theory and its
application to practice. In fact, further extending and improving the
above-mentioned methods is the main current and future goal of this field.
Much of modern Cryptography is based on the notion of computational
difficulty, which is the focus of a related field, called Complexity
Theory. Complexity Theory, which is a central field of Computer
Science, is concerned with the general study of the intrinsic
complexity of computational tasks; that is, the aim is to understand
the effect of limiting natural computational resources (most notably,
time) on the set of computational problems that can be solved.
Although Complexity Theory has had many remarkable achievements, some
of them can even be appreciated by non-experts, its open problems
offer a great research agenda for the next century.
What are the implications of your work for the future of your field
in terms of practical applications/products?
In terms of practical applications, some of my research
contributions turned out to lead to commercial products.
However, I consider the indirect (and hard to trace) impact on practice
of ideas and notions suggested in my work to be far more important.
What would you rate as your most difficult or trying professional moment?
In my field, difficult periods (say months) are more common than
difficult moments, and accordingly the difficulties tend to be deeper
and less dramatic. Difficult periods are long periods in which one is
searching in the dark for something of which one only has a very vague
idea. In addition to the intellectual difficulty of conducting such a
search, it also tends to be emotionally exhausting. Specifically,
often for a long period, one does not get any feeling of progress and
this is very frustrating. Only in retrospect, can one sometime realize
that these "bad periods" were actually periods of progress, although
one did not realize it while living them. My advice to other
researchers in the field is to realize that progress depends on
ability to survive these unavoidable "bad periods."
Which of your professional achievements brings you the most
I am most satisfied by discoveries that either reflect or carry along
a deep understanding of fundamental phenomena. In particular, I find
it most satisfying when a discovery is made based on such an
understanding (rather than emerging by chance). I am also very
satisfied when feeling that I have contributed to the understanding of
other people either through my own work or through exposition of the
work of others.
Aside from your scientific career, what is your greatest or most
compelling ambition in life?
To understand more about the nature of man, society, and history, and
to be able to contribute to the "improvement of mankind." (Surely, my
contribution will be miniscule, but I'll be content with it.)
Would you like to leave any other comments about your work or share
a personal side of yourself?
The revolutionary impact of Computing Technology on our society does
not seem to yield familiarity of the wide public with the intellectual
contents of the Theory of Computing. I believe that this is a pity,
because the latter contains many ideas and insights that may be of
general interest. My web page provides links to attempts to
communicate these ideas to non-experts.
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