[Humanode Special Interview Series]: Hardik, cryptography researcher at Humanode

[Humanode Special Interview Series]: Hardik, cryptography researcher at Humanode

Hi Hardik, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, and what is your history?

Okay. So, I am from this city, called Surat, and it is in Gujarat, India. It’s on the west side of India. I mostly did my earlier schooling in that same city, and then after that I went to Maharashtra for my higher studies. I had been thinking about what to study for my higher education, like engineering, or to study to become a doctor or something like that, I found one new institute that was offering an integrated course that offered both Bachelor’s and Master’s together.  The interesting part was that one could study about whatever subject you liked. It was not about integrated courses in physics or math or chemistry. You could mix things up a bit and you can take some of biology, some of mathematics, or some chemistry —whatever course you liked. So it was like that.

So, I got interested in that particular school, and since I usually liked mathematics, that is what I decided to focus on.  I wasn’t sure what would happen after graduation, but I was sure I would like whatever I would end up doing in life.

I think it was in my third and fourth year that we studied rigorous mathematics, and there were two kinds of mathematics. One was abstract level mathematics. Another one, number theory mathematics.

To me, abstract level mathematics looked very beautiful, with proofs and theorems and stuff.  However, it would actually be very difficult and challenging to do research in that field, and it’s also very difficult to visualize your research. As for the number theory part, what I found interesting was that you can actually use some stuff from number theory and apply it to some applications. Mainly in cryptography. So, that is what got me interested in cryptographic aspects of number theory.

So, During my final year in Maharashtra, I started focusing on cryptography, or rather the mathematical aspect of cryptography.

After completing my graduation, I applied at various places for my Ph.D. program in India, the US, and Europe as well, but unfortunately, I wasn’t successful at first.   So I spent half a year at the crypto lab at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, a very good lab in India as a project student.

And after that, I joined another institute in Gujarat where I did my Ph.D. in Cryptography.

Can you tell me a little more about the town you grew up in?

Yeah, so Surat is a very diverse city that is famous for diamond cutting. There are two main businesses. One is for diamond cutting factories and another is the textile industry.

So, naturally, in Surat, there are many stores that deal in textiles and cloth and diamonds.

The communities there are very…on the lower economic side and not the richer side.  Most people there that came from other parts of Gujarat go to work in the diamond industry.

My family also moved from another part of Gujarat to work in the diamond industry.

My family moved here in 1982 or 1984 and has stayed here since.   I did my schooling up to 5th Standard in private school. After that I went to boarding school. It was a very good boarding school and it was part of the centralized system which was funded by the central government.

It was very good and it not only supported studies but it also supported any sports or any other thing you liked. From that school you can even advance in almost any sport to the national level through a step-by-step process.

I really gained a lot from the school system, and in reality, if I hadn’t gone to that private school and boarding school, I would have only grown up to be a common engineer and I would not be sitting here today.   I can say the only thing I really did not like about going to boarding school was the food… to say the least, the food there makes everything else in the world taste amazingly delicious.

As a kid, what were your dreams and aspirations?

I was actually the first person in my whole family to attend a University.  My parents are not that literate, so I didn’t grow up with highly intellectual statements from my parents like “There are many paths in life. You can grow up and be whatever you want to”, or “Go out and chase your dreams”.  So, during my school days, I didn’t have many dreams to be something or someone.  I just prayed that I could graduate University and get a good, proper job.  Most of my classmates were going for medical degrees, regular engineering degrees, or doctor’s degrees or something like that, but you see, I came across very beautiful mathematics. There is this elegant world mainly in number theory, and it is very fascinating when you look at very complex equations, having very beautiful solutions or thoughts which are based on very basic things. It was the beauty of mathematics that got me.  So in the end, I was interested in mainly doing anything that was related to mathematics.

How did you discover Humanode, and what got you interested?

Yeah, so…after I defended my Ph.D. in March of 2021 and was looking for a job or a research position in the industry, I received a mail from one of the co-founders of Humanode, Victor on LinkedIn saying that there is a position for a cryptography expert in Humanode.

It got me curious, so I just wrote back to him and got a write-up about Humanode.

Once I went through it, I got interested in it when I saw the use of homomorphic encryption for keeping biometric data private. I had heard of homomorphic encryption but mainly in theory, so it was really good to see homomorphic encryption in technical use.  This is state of the art cryptography in practical and actual use here.  So this got me interested, and I went ahead and applied for the position.  Within two days, I was a part of Humanode.

What is your current role in Humanode, and what challenges do you face?

Yes, so currently I am part of the Bio Authentication Team as a cryptographic researcher, and I explore and research on existing tools and techniques to build our own decentralized private biometric authentication system. This involves finding cryptographic primitives that are suitable for neural network models. Biometric authentication involves a neural network model and this is a very complex model involving nonlinear functions. It’s challenging to find suitable cryptographic primitives for this neural network .

And I mainly contribute to the cryptographic aspects of biometric authentication, like creating zero-knowledge proof systems for feature extraction processes, designing verifiable key distribution for decentralized systems etc.

The most challenging part that I faced was finding an approximation for the ReLU function. I remember that we had been working on the ReLU function,  and we had tried several approximation methods but we weren’t successful at all for a while. It was a bit demotivating for some time. But we kept trying, and eventually found a solution, and it was not only good, but was near perfect mainly because it wasn’t affecting the accuracy of the model much and still it was compatible with homomorphic encryption.

What do you like the most about Humanode?

The thing that interested me about Humanode research was that, usually when you look at any project they talk about their ideals or make promises about their desired results, but when you look at their actual implementation it’s always different than their vision or promise.  Let’s say, if  you were to take a look at most projects that talk about decentralized solutions, it is not surprising that when you look deeper and check out their actual product, code, or implementation, in many cases it would be centralized in some way and not actually decentralized.

Even if you look at the promises about privacy in such projects, you soon find out that it is not a truly private solution, and at some point you would have to put trust in their hardware or software, or you would at least be trusting their company to safeguard your data and keep it private.  Right. So in reality that is not real privacy, nor would it be a decentralized solution.

But at Humanode, the data is actually private, and secure.  Also, the vision is to make the system truly decentralized, and we are actually working toward that goal, in which every aspect of the network is decentralized, from bio authentication, to validation, to governance. So that is what I like most about Humanode.

How do you envision the Humanode bio-authentication 5 years from now?

Currently, Humanode is on the path of developing a purely in-house product for the bio-authentication system and consensus protocols. So I am confident that in five years from now, Humanode will be using their fully in-house built product and system for both bio-authentication systems and consensus protocol, becoming truly decentralized.

I hope to see not only Humanode utilizing this system for our own network, but I also hope to see the integration of our system into similar products in other replications, like in voting systems or crypto-wallet authentication.  

Setting Humanode aside for a moment, what do you do in your free time?

Yeah, so, I like playing football, going for trekking and hiking, and also playing some computer games, but (chuckle) nowadays I hardly play football or trekking or hiking, mainly partly due to this Covid,  and partly due to the fact that I am no longer in college, and can’t just go out to play football during our breaks. So, these days I spend most of my time at our new home which is under construction for weekends.  I live with my family so there is alot to go over, like selecting tiles for flooring or selecting colors for each room, or getting furniture and all that stuff.  The home should be completed in a couple of months.

Do you enjoy selecting all of the finishing touches to your family's new home?

Sometimes I do, but sometimes it’s very frustrating when you tell the laborers to do some task and then they don’t do it accordingly.... So actually, it is pretty frustrating!


What kind of computer games do you play?

So, I’m not a hard-core computer game player, but I play very basic games like “Counter Strike” and “Age of Empires”. For the “Age of Empires” I don’t like the current version but I like earlier versions like “Age of Empires II”. Other than those two, I also play  “Call of Duty.

What are your goals in life?

I don’t have any specific goal, but I mainly want to keep doing research and learn new things in cryptography as much as possible. And another thing that I want to do… is I want to at least do one trek of hiking per year, that is one of my goals, but have had no way of doing that for the past few years

What do you want to be doing in 5 years time, and then in 10 years time?

Yeah, so in five or ten years mostly there is nothing specific that I want to do, but I just want to keep learning and keep doing research. I don’t want to ever stop learning.  To me, acquiring knowledge is not like you have to acquire knowledge to do something specific, but just to learn about the knowledge. You never know where it will be useful.   Plus, when you stop learning new stuff, your job gets boring, right?  You end up stuck repeating the same stuff every day and then there is nothing new, so it’s better to keep learning.

What is your favorite food, favorite movie, and favorite rock song?

For food, I love the local food, the Guajarati food has so many different varieties, such as Locho, Ghari, Surti Bhusu, Alupuri, Kavsa, Ponk, Undhiyu, Dhokla, Khaman, Sev Khamani, and so forth.  I especially like Locho, Ghari, Ponk, and Dhokla.

As for movies, my absolute favorite is “Castaway”.  I can watch this movie anytime, anywhere.  It’s all about struggle and hope and spending your own time on a deserted island… so I love that movie. For rock songs, I don’t listen to rock that much, but I do like Coldplay.  I mean, the earlier Coldplay.  My absolute favorite song is “Fix You”.  

Anything you would like to say to the community?

Yes. The people who will use this model (Humanode) will be the most important part of this model actually. If they don’t use it, it will not fulfill its purpose, right?

The more people that can become part of and enjoy this community the better.  I know there are many projects that reward their users with Bitcoins or money to get them to join,  and I know that as of now,  Humanode is not offering any kind of reward for joining the community.

But what people should understand is that this Humanode is a very unique project with its Sybil resistance, it actually cares about the user’s privacy, and has the potential to grow big and change the whole industry as we know it.  This is actually that big of a project.

There has been a very good response to our test net mode. I see that many intelligent people are just waiting to receive an invite to become Humanodes.

So we want these people that have signed up, or have tested the network, to share their experience and ideas about this model with many others and invite them to join the community.

Of course, I think that those who are joining the community early are not joining because of short-term gain, or to make some quick cash, but because this project has much more value in the longer term.

The best example you can see is Bitcoin. Well, now people can see that Bitcoin has lots of value and see that it’s very good. But in the beginning, it didn’t have much value.  At that time it was purely a project that had a vision of a digital economy…so that token didn’t have much value at that time, but still people joined that community because of the vision and concept.  Not because of airdrops and free money handouts.  But those earlier people got most of the value as of now, right? So it’s better to join such projects much earlier, don’t you think?