In a well-received presentation to the IEEE North American School of Information Theory at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) during August 2022, Elza Erkip, Ph.D., the Information Theory Society’s esteemed 2022 Padovani Lecturer, discussed how information theory can be used to enhance privacy in the online world. But addressing solutions to this modern-day concern is just one of the ways in which the IEEE Fellow, 2018 IEEE Information Theory Society President, and Institute Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at New York University’s (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering hopes to continue impacting the field of information theory.
“I loved math as a kid – it was my favorite subject,” shared Erkip, a native of Turkey who holds a B.S. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey) and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University (Stanford, CA, USA). “One of my older brothers is a math professor, the other is an industrial engineer, and my dad was a civil engineer, so we have a lot of math and engineering in our family,” she said of an interest in information theory that was sparked during graduate school when she studied with leading information theorist and author Thomas Cover.
Since then, Dr. Erkip has amassed extensive recognition in the field, including receipt of the NSF CAREER award (2001), IEEE Communications Society WICE Outstanding Achievement Award (2016), IEEE Communications Society Communication Theory Technical Committee (CTTC) Technical Achievement Award (2018), and IEEE Communications Society Edwin Howard Armstrong Achievement Award (2021). Her recent designation as the 2022 Padovani Lecturer (based on a program established and funded by Dr. Roberto Padovani in 2009) recognizes her as an outstanding member of the information theory community and provided her the opportunity to deliver a lecture at one of the IEEE Information Theory Society’s (ITSoc) Schools of Information Theory for the benefit of students and post-doctoral researchers.
During her presentation, Dr. Erkip discussed the ease with which people’s privacy can be compromised based on traces they leave when browsing the web. “I’ve been looking into this issue for a while and working to define and build measures that enable greater privacy,” said Erkip, who used her presentation platform to highlight her activities in this area and how information theoretic tools can be used to better understand and address this practical problem.
For Dr. Erkip, being named the 2022 Padovani Lecturer truly comes full circle. “I’ve met Dr. Padovani on several occasions and he was so generous with his time and the funds to establish the Padovani Lecturer Program, for which I’m so grateful,” she said. “Receiving this award from ITSoc, my intellectual home, and knowing how accomplished Dr. Padovani is in the field make this honor even more special.” Padovani’s generosity earned him an honorable place in the IEEE Heritage Circle, the IEEE Foundation’s cumulative giving recognition group, at the Alexander Bell giving level.
Looking ahead, Dr. Erkip hopes to continue contributing to the field of information theory in indelible ways. Among other initiatives, she and colleagues at NYU “are working on an NSF-sponsored project designed to build future generations of wireless systems with security and privacy in mind,” she said, “and we hope that it will garner interest among information theorists and wireless practitioners going forward.”
She also hopes to inspire future generations of information theorists. “It was exciting to deliver my lecture to students at one of the biggest schools in Information Theory,” Dr. Erkip said. “These students shape the future of the field and I hope that by sharing the importance of privacy-related issues, some will be intrigued by and motivated to address those challenges.”