With bookings for CyberSec&AI Connected (October 8th, 2020), now open, we spoke with Michal Pechoucek, Chief Technology Officer at Avast and a professor at the Czech Technical University in Prague. Michal has authored more than 400 research papers and contributed numerous innovative artificial intelligence applications to research in computer science, and co-founded several technology start-ups.
Michal is one of CyberSec&AI Connected’s chief architects and in this Q&A he talks about the possibilities of the new virtual format and what attendees can expect this year.
Last year’s event brought together international speakers and delegates to Prague. What were the key things you learnt or got most excited about from the 2019 event?
I was surprised and inspired by learning that there are many scientists who have been thinking and examining similar subject matters, but didn’t have a proper venue to meet and exchange ideas. The conference confirmed there are other technologists and scientists who are working on the same set of challenges as us at Avast and CTU and that are also taking a comparable and inspiring approach. It helped reassure us that we are on the right track.
Due to current world events, this year the conference is going virtual, allowing anyone to join us from wherever they are in the world. To complement that, if conditions allow, there may also be select meetups in cities in Europe and the US. What excites you most about this new format?
This format that we are currently piloting would allow us to connect experts in AI and cybersecurity through a combination of remote and in-person meetings. If restrictions and regulations permit, we want to provide an opportunity for a certain amount of like-minded experts and scientists to meet up in select cities across the world and connect with other locations via telepresence. That would allow us to connect several lively debating hubs. If conditions do not permit any physical meetups, the agenda is still incredibly valuable for anyone in the field of AI and cybersecurity. We’ve designed the event to work as a standalone virtual event too.
This year’s theme is around data and privacy in AI and cybersecurity. Have you any thoughts on recent developments in this area and what we can expect to see in the near future?
The landscape is shifting. Data privacy is becoming more and more one of the fundamental liberties that people are concerned with and being cautious around. People and regulators were less invested in debating data privacy issues in the past, but now it is a topic on the top of their minds. Luckily, plenty of technology has been developed recently that allows for responsible private data manipulation that can remove our worries about possible misuse or mishandling of private data. As a result, I am really excited to see the latest developments in this area and to be part of relevant debates around it.
One of the critical tech developments we are seeing around the COVID-19 pandemic has been the use of tracer apps, whether on people’s phones or in physical wearable tags, to help monitor the spread of virus and recognise patterns of infection. This obviously has both positive and potentially negative consequences in relation to AI, cybersecurity and data. Is the speed these solutions are being pushed out of major concern?
Yes, the potential for these apps to be misused is really something we need to worry about. This is a challenge for cybersecurity experts as much as for data privacy scientists. However, I truly believe that we do need to choose between safety and security on one hand and data privacy and related freedoms on the other hand. Technologists have been able to demonstrate in the past that, for example, by means of homomorphic encryption, private data can be queried in a way that does not go outside of a well defined and specified purpose and can retain the confidentiality of the person that data relates to.
While a lot of the discussion around data and privacy is very theoretical, these are topics increasingly being featured in the public sphere. How much more educated do you think people are in this area now and what can be done to further keep people informed about their data and privacy rights?
As with cybersecurity, for many the threat remains too abstract for those who have been lucky enough to not yet be directly impacted. Similarly, until individuals personally suffer or witness something where their private data has been stolen and misused at scale, they tend to continue to regard private data violation as a rather theoretical concept. We don’t want to wait for major incidents to change people’s perceptions, and I am calling for better education in this context. Events like CyberSec&AI Connected will certainly contribute to the debate.
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