Hire mathematician Sarang Noether (and computational physicist) to join research team.

forum.getmonero.org5y ago
The What

Hi there! You should hire me, Sarang Noether, as a mathematical and cryptographic researcher to keep Monero stable and help it grow long term. I have a strong background in cryptography, data modeling, computational physics, and theoretical mathematics, as well as experience working with the Monero team. My good friend Surae Noether (now identified as masked mathematician Brandon Goodell) of the Monero Research Lab (MRL) team encouraged me to come on board as a full-time researcher.

The Who

Back in the day, I worked on interesting problems for MRL as it was starting to blossom as an integral part of the Monero project. Our team worked pseudonymously and analyzed existing constructions within the Monero standards while working out future improvements and analysis. You may remember me from IRC or the MRL papers. I completed separate M.S. degrees in mathematics and physics, and am set to defend my Ph.D. thesis in computational physics shortly.

My research background blends the dark side of mathematics with the messy side of material science. I use a lot of different numerical and simulation techniques to study how materials degrade, which involves huge data sets and plenty of custom analysis. My analysis is done using custom code in C++ and Python, but I have experiencing coding in ASP, C, Java, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, and other languages. To make a long story longer and toot my own horn a little: I am very good at applying rigorous mathematical and statistical analysis to big and ugly data. Before graduate school, I worked for the United States government (at the Naval Observatory in Washington) on the atomic clocks that power the GPS system, which involved a whole lotta time series analysis and more clock math than you can shake a wristwatch at. Ask me about leap seconds if you're bored sometime. I also developed and manage the cloud data infrastructure that powers the operational analysis tools for a good chunk of the bikeshare systems in the United States. If you've ever rented a bike in this country, there's a good chance it used code that I wrote.

On the side, I teach. I run cryptology courses for the Duke University Talent Identification Program and Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in the United States and overseas, where I introduce gifted students to the awesome and terrifying world of ciphers. I've even given lectures on Monero and some of its notable constructions like ring signatures in my classes. Aside from this course, I write and deliver courses on algorithm design and scientific computing. I use these courses as an opportunity to stay sharp on the cutting edge of modern cryptography and hone my skills as a technical communicator.

The Why

Why should you support me? I have a history of work with Monero's development and a sharp eye for implementations of mathematical algorithms. Monero has a lot of talented community members specialized in fields like mathematics, applied cryptography, and computer science. What's rarer, though, is someone who has a strong background in all of them. I can look at a construction and proof of security and compare it to what's actually in code. Surae and I consult frequently on issues that the community brings up, new proposals for Monero's future, and independent reviews of existing code. We've caught some less-than-ideal implementations of primitives recently, like nonstandard input concatenation hashes that aren't provably secure and should probably go away. The recent research roadmap (say that five times fast) posted by Surae to the forums is ambitious, and rightly so. Monero has come a long way, but its growth means a larger footprint to keep an eye on, and more exciting developments to thoroughly and formally investigate.

The Proposal

I propose the community hire me for 467 XMR for a three-month period (starting from the full funding date) to conduct applied and theoretical research that falls in line with the priorities set forth in the research roadmap. Big-ticket items that are the target of my focus are:

Thorough analysis of ring signature proposals and signature bloat. We've seen a lot of recent activity in this area that needs attention. The current goal is to hit reliable sublinear signatures without a trusted setup. Investiation of efficient "future-proofing" proposals. We are interested in nailing down some bilinear pairing constructions, zero-knowledge schemes, threshold signatures, and the like. A broader, but related, goal is to gain a complete understanding of what a post-quantum Monero looks like. Community consensus projects. We get papers and proposals submitted all the time that don't necessarily fit neatly into our bulleted lists of research goals, but that deserve attention. When the community agrees that a new attack or construction needs expert eyes, that becomes a focal point.

Milestones for the ambitious research roadmap put forth by Surae are necessarily fluid and must adapt to the community's needs, but you should expect the following:

Executive summaries and whitepapers. These are best done collaboratively, and likely will be. We've done an excellent job of putting out thorough research bulletins, but the bar of technical expertise needed for a complete understanding is sometimes set a little too high. I want to see a bigger focus on general, but factually complete, summaries that are suitable for less-technical audiences within the community. Community engagement. Expect my attention on IRC and the subreddit, where the action takes place. I like the idea of designated "office hours" dedicated to technical questions. Researcher collaboration. One of the biggest reasons that I am interested in this transition to full-time research is a desire to increase Monero's research footprint collaboratively. Surae and I have a history of productive mathematical work together, both within Monero and without. Internal conversations don't always happen in public, but are a major part of research in any field. Of course, at the end of the three-month period, the community should review my work and recommend (either for or against) a renewal of the proposal.

What do I want to accomplish? I want to grow the MRL program as a full-time member of the team. Monero succeeds when its community has complete trust in both the underlying mathematics and its implementation, and hiring strong researchers demonstrates to the world that Monero is serious, stable, and here for the long haul. The roadmaps include ambitious but reasonable plans to reduce blockchain bloat, continue to check under the rug for existing implementation issues, study constructions like ring signature mix-ins, and ensure Monero will remain safe and reliable in a post-quantum world. I've enjoyed consulting for MRL already, both in the past as a part-time paid researcher and more recently as a volunteer. But the team and community benefit from mathematicians who can devote their full attention to the project. The community's recent show of support to Surae was a good move that confirmed the community places a high value on strong research. The best time to hire a team of mathematicians was at Monero's birth (hindsight, amirite?), but the next best time is now.

Edit: The proposal section was heavily updated to incorporate concerns and suggestions from the community.

Edit edit: The amount was adjusted to 467 XMR to reflect a smoothing of the recent price fluctuations, after discussions in #monero-ffs.