Prof. Bryan Ford

CIS Get to know your neighbors Seminar Series

“In Defense of a Human Reality”

Prof. Bryan Ford, Associate Professor, Decentralized and Distributed Systems Lab

Monday, June 12, 2023 | 3:15 – 4:15pm (CEST)
Hybrid or on-site INF 328


Attendance is welcome either in-person or by zoom, but only in-person attendees will be able to participate in a demo of some of the technology presented.

Our perception of global reality now relies primarily on digital channels: what’s on the web and the popular platforms; what we’re fed by search and recommender systems, and increasingly by AI.  But as content production is increasingly automated, with natural advantages toward fakery, can we predict any outcome from the resulting collective information feedback loops – in which AIs serve as author and curator, attacker and defender, leaving humans on the sidelines?  Will the result serve the interests of humans, or represent any ground-truth reality meaningful to humans?
This talk will motivate the need for processes, and policies, ensuring that at least some of our information ecosystem remains produced by, representative of, and accountable to, real humans.  As a foundation, we introduce a proof of personhood process to distinguish human participants from fake accounts while protecting privacy.  To ensure that votes, deliberations, or crowdsourced projects reflect the genuine free will of real humans, we augment proof of personhood with coercion-resistant E-voting techniques.  Finally, we outline potential future steps, such as influence and value metrics well-founded in the perceptions of real humans, and “certified human” verification for creative or educational activities.
Prof. Bryan Ford leads the Decentralized/Distributed Systems (DEDIS) research laboratory at EPFL.  Ford’s research focuses on decentralized systems, security and privacy, digital democracy, and blockchain technology.  Since earning his Ph.D. at MIT, Ford has held faculty positions at Yale University and EPFL. His awards include the Jay Lepreau Best Paper Award, the NSF CAREER award, and the AXA Research Chair.  Inventions he is known for include parsing expression grammars, delegative or liquid democracy, and scalable sharded blockchains.  He has advised numerous companies and governments, including serving on the US DARPA Information Science and Technology (ISAT) Study Group and on the Swiss Federal E-voting Experts Dialog.