Defeating the data pirates

Today’s Exponential Investor comes from our tech expert Sam Volkering. He’s released some rather extraordinary news to his subscribers, part of which I can share with you…

If Sam is right, one of the most important problems preventing a wave of new technological revolutions could be resolved. Thereby unleashing a wave of shelf-ready innovations.

Remember where you heard about it first….

What you see is not what you think

Sam Volkering

In 2013 I attended a tech conference in London called Campus Party. The keynote speaker was Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland.

Pentland is one of the most cited computational scientists in the world. In 2012, Forbes declared him one of “the world’s 7 most powerful data scientists”.

Pentland helped to create the MIT Media Lab, where he leads the Human Dynamics research group. In 2014, Verge labelled Pentland the “Godfather of Wearables”. He helped develop Google Glass, while also pioneering wearable fitness trackers.

He is one of the most knowledgeable and significant people in the technology space who you’ve probably never heard of.

When we heard Pentland talk in 2013, we were in awe. His insight into data and its importance in the world was nothing short of incredible.

At the MIT Media Lab, Pentland was adviser to a number of students. But there’s one in particular, Guy Zyskind, with whom Pentland has worked very closely with.

On 30 June 2015, Wired published an article titled, “MIT’s Bitcoin-Inspired ‘Enigma’ Lets Computers Mine Encrypted Data”.

The article explained that:

… a pair of bitcoin entrepreneurs and the MIT Media Lab revealed a prototype for a system called Enigma, designed to achieve a decades-old goal in data security known as “homomorphic” encryption: A way to encrypt data such that it can be shared with a third party and used in computations without it ever being decrypted.

One of the entrepreneurs the article was referring to was Zyskind. Along with Oz Nathan from Tel-Aviv University, the two (under the tutelage of Pentland) had cracked the “holy grail” of data sharing.

They were able to allow computers to analyse data without ever having to actually reveal the details of the data.

Zyskind explains:

“You can see it as a black box… You send whatever data you want, and it runs in the black box and only returns the result. The actual data is never revealed, neither to the outside nor to the computers running the computations inside.”

Fast-forward four years later, and today, thanks to the research and development at MIT, Zyskind is now putting their breakthrough into practice.


And they conclude that:

Personal data, and sensitive data in general, should not be trusted in the hands of third-parties, where they are susceptible to attacks and misuse. Instead, users should own and control their data without compromising security or limiting companies’ and authorities’ ability to provide personalized services… Users are not required to trust any third-party and are always aware of the data that is being collected about them and how it is used.

It’s a tricky concept to get your head around. But imagine you’re a giant pharmaceutical company, and you want to get hold of a massive dataset. This data is curated from millions of people around the world, with details about their health and lifestyle. In this example, the data is collected through these people’s smart devices – their fitness wearables.

This personal data can be encrypted and then sold to the pharmaceutical company for a token reward. They can analyse and produce more effective products using these datasets.

But, importantly, during the analysis, the personal data is encrypted and kept private, without specific access to any user’s particular data. The company never gets to see the detailed personal data. It can’t be leaked, stolen, or abused. It can only be used for its intended purpose.

This is an incredible breakthrough in how we can monetise and widely distribute the incredible amounts of data we create today. It’s also a breakthrough in trust and verification without identification.


Sam Volkering
Editor, Southbank Investment Research

Category: Blockchain

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