Cynthia Dwork Awarded 2020 Knuth Prize
Written by Sue Gee   
Thursday, 14 May 2020

The recipient of this year's Knuth Prize is Cynthia Dwork, a computer scientist widely known for the introduction and development of differential privacy, and for her work on non-malleability, lattice-based encryption, concurrent composition, and proofs of work. 

The Knuth Prize of $10,000 was established in 1996 and is awarded annually to individuals for contributions to the foundations of computer science. It is jointly bestowed by the ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT) and the IEEE Computer Society Technical Committee on the Mathematical Foundations of Computing (TCMF) and is named after Donald Knuth of Stanford University, who has been called the "father of the analysis of algorithms"  and also dubbed the "Euclid of computer science".

According to the SIGACT citation, Cynthia Dwork of Harvard University:

is one of the most influential theoretical computer scientists of her generation. Her research has transformed several fields, most notably distributed systems, cryptography, and data privacy, and her current work promises to add fairness in algorithmic decision making to the list.

A striking feature of Dwork’s work is her willingness and ability to tackle big, important problems.

cynthia dwork

Dwork received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1979 and her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1983. After a two-year post-doctoral appointment at MIT, she joined the IBM Almaden Research Center and in 2001 moved to Microsoft Research. She took up her current posts of Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Radcliffe Alumnae Professorship at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard in 2017.

The Knuth Prize citation refers specifically to two areas of her work - cryptography in a network environment and privacy. A cornerstone of the latter is differential privacy, a strong privacy guarantee and a collection of methods that allow researchers to analyze large data sets containing sensitive personal information – such as medical and mortgage application records – while preserving the privacy of the individuals whose information is contained therein.

More recently she has turned to algorithmic fairness, which is the topic of this lecture she delivered as part of the 2018–2019 Fellows’ Presentation Series at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, In it she addresses an increasing concern that, as computers and computer algorithms reach ever more deeply into our lives, they should incorporate societal values such as privacy, fairness, and statistical validity: 

Cynthia Dwork has already been recognized many times for her contributions. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2008, and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008) and the Association for Computing Machinery (2015)  She was awarded the Dijkstra Prize in 2007 for her work on consensus problems together with Nancy Lynch and Larry Stockmeyer. In 2009 she won the PET Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies. The 2017 Gödel Prize was awarded to her together with Frank McSherry, Kobbi Nissim and Adam Smith for their seminal paper that introduced differential privacy and in 2019 she won the IEEE Hamming Medal for her:

“foundational work in privacy, cryptography, and distributed computing, and for leadership in developing differential privacy.” 

To give the final word to SIGACT commitee:

"Overall, Dwork is an outstanding Computer Scientist who richly deserves the 2020 Knuth prize."


More Information

SIGACT citation - Cynthia Dwork

Knuth Prize

ACM announcement


Related Articles

Knuth Prize 2019 Awarded For Contributions To Complexity Theory 

Knuth Prize 2018 Awarded For Contributions To Computational Complexity 

Knuth Prize 2011 Goes To Microsoft Researcher 

Donald Knuth & The Art of Computer Programming


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Last Updated ( Thursday, 14 May 2020 )