Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS) 2023, one of the top conferences in theoretical computer science along with the Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC), has selected Professor Amit Sahai’s work on indistinguishability obfuscation to receive a Test of Time Award. The awarded paper, titled “Candidate Indistinguishability Obfuscation and Functional Encryption for All Circuits” (2013), jointly authored by S. Garg, C. Gentry, S. Halevi, M. Raykova, A. Sahai, and B. Waters is being recognized recognized for its profound impact on the field.
Amit’s contributions to indistinguishability obfuscation have been widely acknowledged and celebrated even before this latest accolade. In the previous year, he delivered a by-invitation-only lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), one of the most prestigious events in the mathematical world, where Fields Medals are awarded every four years. Furthermore, his work on indistinguishability obfuscation received extensive press coverage, awarded the 2022 Michael and Sheila Held Prize by the National Academy of Sciences, and garnered a Best Paper Award at STOC 2021. Among the many recognitions, Amit was asked to give a tutorial at FOCS 2020, a Simons workshop, and a talk on “lifetime accomplishments of significant scholars” at Harvard’s Center for Mathematical Sciences and Applications (CMSA).
In layman’s terms, Amit’s research on obfuscation tackles the fundamental question: “Is it possible to keep a secret from a mind-reading adversary?”. As the award citation highlights, “The ideal obfuscator would convert any computer program into an equivalent program that gives no information about the original program apart from its functionality. While such an obfuscator would have extremely powerful applications, earlier work showed that it is impossible to achieve.”
In 2001, Amit pioneered an alternative notion known as indistinguishability obfuscation (IO), encapsulated by the principle that “the obfuscated versions of any two equivalent programs are indistinguishable.” Prior to Amit’s 2013 work, it was unknown whether IO was achievable. Not only did Amit propose the first approach to achieve IO, but he also demonstrated that IO resolves the central open problem in functional encryption. His contribution sparked a tremendous amount of follow-up research, showcasing that “IO can be used to achieve a variety of objectives in cryptography for which no other approach was known.” Amit’s work continues to shape the landscape of theoretical computer science and cryptography, earning him the well-deserved recognition of the FOCS Test of Time Award.