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Tue, 07 Nov 2000

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Alternative(?) approaches to cryptography

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Here is my view of what transpired at the meeting on Alternative approaches to Cryptology.

  1. According to the govt, the primary purpose of an as-yet-un-named program is to link traditional knowledge to be found in Sanskrit texts and elsewhere to science and thence to technology and products. They wish to see if there can be a centre for this activity which can be set up with the help of various organisations in the region such as the Academy for Sanskrit Research(ASR), Sanskrit studies centre in Anna University, the TIFAC program for network security at Shanmugam and the IMSc.

  2. A presentation on the pilot project done by the ASR was presented. They have undertaken detailed linguistic studies of Sanskrit texts on the basis of the linguistic theories found in the work of Panini. Their study has unearthed some notions of inference and logic. Another aspect discussed in detail in the Sanskrit texts is an analysis of sound production.

  3. The question of how the problem of bulk storage (of texts) has been solved in traditional systems was raised

  4. A demonstration of an example of the proposed encryption scheme was provided.

  5. A text to speech program capable of rendering speech in different Indian languages including Tamil and Sanskrit was demonstrated.

  6. A number of people expressed general remarks such as,
    1. There is a wealth of information to be found in the texts if we spend enough time looking.
    2. The Vedas are science and the study of these should be declared as science.
    3. Every language in the world can be expressed in terms of certain symbols in the works of Panini, which lead to different languages if read in different ways.
    4. There is power in the spoken word; even wet wood can be set on fire by speaking certain words.

My own opinions

  1. In order to set up a centre for excellence it is first necessary to have a small group of researchers who have established some research which has been authenticated through peer review. As of now I see no evidence of this in the pilot project. Such a group can be formed by approaching academics with similar interests and exploring the common field of interest.

  2. The mention of products and goal-direction in basic research can lead us away from the true value of the research. One advantage of basic research is that it is not clear what its application will be---but it is an important activity on its own. It is clear that research into the structure and content of traditional texts (not just Sanskrit but other Indian languages as well) is of great value quite apart from its linkages to history, science, religion or whatever else.

  3. The example provided does not fit into any particular aspect of encryption technology as practised today. It is too weak on its own to provide a new paradigm for encryption. Any such proposed paradigm would in any case need to be studied, designed and tested before it gains acceptance; a gestation period of 10 years or more.

  4. In this particular case there seems to be considerable progress in the study (by the ASR) of phonetics and speech production. As a lay person I can say that this aspect was quite fascinating and could possibly lead to a common phonetic script for Indian languages---one that would not be used for writing but as an an intermediary in text to speech and vice versa. However, such research needs to be written down and discussed with experts in speech synthesis. A proper process of peer review is the only way to judge the work.

  5. While the memory skills of the ancient scholars and mechanisms used to enhance these skills are admirable these do not add up to a data compression mechanism. To give one an idea of what is being compared here---the entire text of the epic Mahabharat can easily be put (uncompressed) on a CD-ROM (650 MB of data), while the current disk technologies are discussing TB=10^6 MB of data on a single disk.

  6. Unproven, untested generalised assertions cannot form the basis of a scientific study. The existing scientific method is the orthodoxy of today and any theory or field of research that wishes to be called scientific and/or obtain support in the form of personnel or funds needs to overlap considerably with this method.

  7. Finally, the IMSc has no research work in the speech synthesis area. We should suggest that the ASR be connected with the IIT Madras group on speech synthesis or the speech group at TIFR. This is the most promising aspect of the work presented.

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