An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Kurt Rohloff, the co-founder and CTO of Duality Technologies, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Duality Technologies – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
Together with two of my co-founders, Prof. Shafi Goldwasser and Prof. Vinod Vaikuntanathan, I have been involved in the research and development of homomorphic encryption (HE) since its very inception. Traditionally, encrypted data is not usable in computations. HE brings about a fundamental change in data utility, enabling users to process and analyze data while it remains encrypted. Jointly with Duality CEO Alon Kaufman, who brought with him extensive experience in commercializing data science technologies, and Rina Shainski, a seasoned venture capitalist and our chairwoman today, we realized that the time was right to bring these capabilities to the market. Growing amounts of sensitive data are being generated, leading to a mounting need for secure computing solutions, and the availability of affordable computing infrastructure makes HE feasible for real-world computations.
We founded Duality in 2016 with the mission of productizing HE and building practical, privacy-preserving solutions for data science use cases, so that organizations can collaborate on data, including sensitive and regulated data, within their ecosystem, while preserving privacy and trust.
Over the past two years, with tightening privacy regulations worldwide, the need for privacy-enhancing technologies has dramatically increased. For example, our technology enables financial institutions to join forces and collectively leverage data in their fight against financial crime, while complying with stringent privacy regulations and secrecy rules. Another example is healthcare research, where our technology enables scientists to pool data from various sources across jurisdictions to glean important insights into diseases and develop better cures, without compromising patient privacy.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
As mentioned above, homomorphic encryption has been an intense focus of research efforts extensively funded by the DoD for the first decade of its existence. Fully homomorphic encryption was seen as being highly valuable, but not yet practical for real-world use cases. With our world-class cryptography and data science team, we have made a series of fundamental performance breakthroughs that have made HE applicable on large-scale data sets. For example, our team demonstrated the efficacy of our solution for complex biomedical computations on encrypted genomic datasets for large-scale genome wide association studies (GWAS), yielding results 30 times faster than alternative secure computation methods.
In the beginning, we often were confronted with the perception that HE is slow and not feasible for enterprise-grade implementations, so we’ve been active in market education. We are happy to see that the market is beginning to understand the value that HE can bring to any area in which organizations need to securely collaborate on data.
What does the future hold for Duality Technologies?
With organizations increasingly needing to leverage data to drive inbound and outbound business processes, while at the same time having to protect sensitive data, we are seeing growing interest in our data collaboration solutions from organizations across regulated industries, such as financial services, healthcare, insurance, and telecom.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to rising awareness of the role collective data analytics can play in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. For such research collaborations across institutions to take off, reliable data privacy and protection protocols must be in place. We’ve recently contracted with DARPA to apply homomorphic encryption to COVID-19 related research.
Privacy-preserving machine learning is another field that has generated increased interest in Duality’s secure computing technology. The accelerated digital transformation all industries are going through is generating ever-growing amounts of data, including highly sensitive data, and the industry is in dire need of ways of leveraging it in order to train and execute AI models without actually exposing it.
We have no doubt that privacy-enhancing technologies hold the key to a sustainable, value-generating data economy that doesn’t violate individuals’ right to privacy.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Newark?
New Jersey in general, and Newark in particular is an emerging tech hub for high-potential startups. Newark has the benefit of being a short drive from NYC (the world’s center for finance and media), the US telecom industry in northern NJ, and the US pharmaceutical industry. Newark also has the advantage of being close to transport hubs such as Newark Airport and the Northeast Corridor train line. There is also a tremendous pool of experienced and highly educated human capital.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The most important thing you can do as an aspiring entrepreneur is to build an effective network, and find the best partners possible. You need co-founders who you can depend on, who you trust, who complement your skills, and who motivate you to achieve your team’s goals.