The Laureates

Copyright © Klaus Tschira Stiftung / Peter Badge

Avi Wigderson

Born 9 September 1956 in Haifa (Israel)

Nevanlinna Prize (1994) “for outstanding contributions in Mathematical Aspects of Information Sciences”

Avi Wigderson was born in Haifa, Israel to Shoshana, a nurse and Pinchas, an electrical engineer. He received his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in 1980 from the Technion, the technological institute in Haifa. After this degree, awarded summa cum laude, Wigderson went to the USA. At Princeton University, he took first his masters (M.S.E. in Computer Science in 1981, M.A. in Computer Science 1982), and then wrote his doctoral thesis supervised by RJ Lipton entitled “Studies in Combinatorial Complexity” (Ph.D. in 1983 in Computer Science). He then spent 3 years as a postdoc in the Bay Area, from 1983 to 1984 at the University of California, Berkeley, then at IBM Research in San Jose, California and finally at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley. Then he returned to his homeland: at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he was first Senior Lecturer (1986-1987), and then an associate tenure professor of Computer Science (1987-1991). From 1991 until 2003 Wigderson was professor at the Computer Science Institute of the Hebrew University, and from 1993 to 1995 he was chair of the Institute of Computer Science. In addition to his teaching and research activities in Israel, Wigderson has remained active at Princeton. From 1990 to 1992 he was visiting associate professor of Computer Science there, and from 1995 to 1996 visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. From 1999 until today, he is professor at the School of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study, at Princeton University.

Avi is married to Edna, and is the father of Eyal, Einat and Yuval.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (2013) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011). He is the recipient of several awards, including the Conant Prize of the American Mathematical Society (2008), the Gödel Prize (2008) and the Nevanlinna Prize from the International Mathematical Union (1994).

Avi works in the wide and expanding, collaborative and exciting field of theoretical computer science (TCS). His interests are diverse and include complexity theory, algorithms, randomness, cryptography, parallel and distributed computing, as well as the many mathematical fields interacting with TCS.

His favourite result is by his own account his work on zero-knowledge proofs. This paradoxical notion, invented by Shafi Goldwasser, Silvio Micali, and Charles Rackoff, motivated by cryptographic applications, suggests that a prover of a mathematical theorem will convince any verifier of its validity without revealing anything else (beyond correctness), and in particular, no hint of the proof. Despite that, the prover has only negligible chance of convincing the verifier of any false statement.

Avi Wigderson, together with Oded Goldreich and Silvio Micali, revealed the surprising power of such proofs. They showed that – assuming the existence of one-way functions (the standard basis of cryptography) – /every/  mathematical theorem possess such zero-knowledge proof. Moreover, this proof can be constructed efficiently from a standard mathematical proof.