Date Posted: 6/25/2020

Cynthia Dwork, Cornell CS alumna (M.Sc. '81, Ph.D. '83) and Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University, received the 2020 Donald E. Knuth Prize for contributions to Theoretical Computer Science. When reached for comment, Dwork's mentor at Cornell, John Hopcroft said: "Cynthia Dwork was one of Cornell’s outstanding Ph.D. students. She accepted a job at Microsoft where she developed the new subfield of differential privacy. She is now a chaired professor at Harvard."

The award was granted to Dwork for "her sustained record of contributions to theoretical computer science over the past four decades." The Knuth Prize is jointly given 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). It was presented at the 61st Annual Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS 2020). As noted in Enterpraise AI:

Dwork’s research has transformed several fields, most notably distributed systems, cryptography, and data privacy, and, more recently, fairness in algorithmic decision making. She is widely known for the introduction and development of differential privacy, and for her work on nonmalleability, lattice-based encryption, concurrent composition, and proofs of work. She also made foundational contributions in many other areas including distributed systems with her work on consensus, and in algorithmic fairness with her work on the formalization of the “treat like alike” principle.

The Donald E. Knuth Prize is named in honor of Donald Knuth of Stanford University, who has been called the “father of the analysis of algorithms.” The annual award recognizes outstanding contributions to the foundations of computer science by individuals for their overall impact in the field over an extended period.

Dwork is the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research. She received her BS from Princeton University (1979), her MSc from Cornell University (1981), and her PhD from Cornell University (1983). Dwork’s honors include receiving the Dijkstra Prize (jointly with Nancy Lynch and Larry Stockmeyer) for her work on consensus problems; the Gödel Prize (jointly with Frank McSherry, Kobi Nissim, and Adam Smith) for their seminal paper that introduced differential privacy; and the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal for her work in privacy, cryptography, and distributed computing, and for her leadership in developing differential privacy.

Fellow Cornell alumnus, Ravindran Kannan (M.S. 1977, Ph.D. 1979), who works on algorithms and the foundations of computing as a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research India, received the Knuth Prize in 2011. He also studied with John Hopcroft at Cornell and they coauthored Foundations of Data Science (2013).