Philosophy and Information Security

In the Economist:

IN THE 1940s a philosopher called Carl Hempel showed that by manipulating the logical statement “all ravens are black”, you could derive the equivalent “all non-black objects are non-ravens”. Such topsy-turvy transformations might seem reason enough to keep philosophers locked up safely on university campuses, where they cannot do too much damage. However, a number of computer scientists, led by Fernando Esponda of Yale University, are taking Hempel’s notion as the germ of an eminently practical scheme. They are applying such negative representations to the problem of protecting sensitive data. The idea is to create a negative database. Instead of containing the information of interest, such a database would contain everything except that information.

The concept of a negative database took shape a couple of years ago, while Dr Esponda was working at the University of New Mexico with Paul Helman, another computer scientist, and Stephanie Forrest, an expert on modelling the human immune system. The important qualification concerns that word “everything”. In practice, that means everything in a particular set of things.