Opening Remarks – Surrey Research Forum on AI – SuRF-AI, 1 May 2019

Welcome to the Surrey Research Forum on AI (SuRF-AI) – Cybersecurity.  I like the acronym – I used to be a surfer – “Surf eh” – sounds very Australian!

This is a workshop that is, and I quote, “focussed on bringing bring together PGRs and ECRs across the University to share ideas and communicate research priorities focusing on AI & cyber-security.”

Well, bravo young researchers – it is rewarding to see your energy and appetite to connect. And bravo Doctoral College – for seeing these two groups as so strongly linked – you are all indeed part of a continuum taking you from research apprentice to research master.

Many contemporary research challenges require approaches coming from different angles, different disciplines, different perspectives and cultures. Diversity is always a good thing in research.  And I see quite a bit of that in evidence today.

Let me say a little bit about contemporary research practice and your role in it, and then a couple of remarks about the topic at hand.

Research, indeed, requires:

  • openness, to ideas, to new directions, to new thinking;
  • powers of observation, to notice what is new and different;
  • curiosity, to explore the unexplained; and
  • capacity, to work things out.

So, research, with its transparency of methods, and its openness to being shared and to being reproduced, is the companion of tolerance and diversity – and these qualities explain why it lends itself so well to being conducted in collaboration across countries and cultures.

At Surrey, we champion the values that are wrapped up in this activity: of collaboration, of respect and integrity, within a framework of excellence and ambition. And I am sure these values will be in evidence throughout the course of this afternoon.

As a University, we aspire to be known as the place to commence a research career – to commence that journey from apprentice to master.  Do let me know where we are succeeding, and where we can do better.

Meanwhile, today’s topic is AI and Cybersecurity….. In fact, our speaker will give a talk entitled “Cybersecurity Challenges and Solutions of Blockchain-Based Businesses”

So, how about a few definitions for the uninitiated…..let me start with blockchain.

Blockchain – is a digital distributed ledger completely open to anyone that cannot be tampered with, without detection. A ledger is a book (or other collection) of usually financial accounts….so a collection of transactions we want to keep secure.

The blockchain, then, is chain of blocks – each block contains some data, and a digital fingerprint that identifies it, as well as the fingerprint of the previous block in the chain. So, the daisy chain shows matched pairs of fingerprints along the chain.

It somehow (and this bit beats me) has the property that if you change the data, the fingerprint of that block must also change. So, this then creates a mismatch with the copy of the fingerprint stored on the next block, and so tampering can be detected.

But wait, there is more needed – first, why can’t a computer just recalculate all fingerprints in the chain and update them all? Well, because there is a slow-down mechanism, meaning it takes too long – 10 mins per block!

And last one – blockchains are shared (distributed) in peer-to-peer networks where everyone has sight of their copy of the blockchain – which they compare with each other.

So, blockchain is a secure “distributed ledger technology”.

Its origins lay in research on digital timestamps in 1991 with Haber and Stornetta at Bellcore, New Jersey, (Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta, Journal of Cryptology, January 1991, 3(2), pp 99–111 “How to time-stamp a digital document”), and then picked up by the mysteriously still unidentified Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 for bitcoin – a blockchain in which the data comprises the sender, the receiver, and how much bitcoin to be transferred.

Haber and Stornetta wrote (in 1991): “The prospect of a world in which all text, audio, picture, and video documents are in digital form on easily modifiable media raises the issue of how to certify when a document was created or last changed. The problem is to time-stamp the data, not the medium. We propose computationally practical procedures for digital time-stamping of such documents…..” Wow – only 30 years ago, we were still contemplating a future that today we take for granted.

By the way, their paper, amazingly, also includes the stanza of a poem:

Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,

To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light,

To stamp the seal of time in aged things,

To wake the morn, the sentinel the night,

To wrong the wronger till he render right.

(The Rape of Lecrece, l. 941, William Shakespeare, 1594).

Now, you can see that I was once a lecturer…..but I will stop at “Blockchain meets Shakespeare 101” and shortly turn you over to a real expert on the topic of cybersecurity.

Before I do that, though, I just wanted to indulge in a few Surrey boasts…..

  • On blockchain – we have established a unique testbed that has attracted wide attention nationally;
  • On AI, we are one of the largest AI research concentrations in Europe, ranking 3rd in computer vision behind ETH Zurich, and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Saarbrucken – keeping good company;
  • In Cybersecurity, we are indeed home to a GCHQ-accredited UK centre
  • And don’t get me started on our leadership in 5G….or the fact that the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, where we are today, has been consistently ranked in the top 10 for research worldwide!

Enjoy your afternoon of practicing excellence – secure that your cyber knowledge will be greater when you leave today than when you came. Best wishes.