We’re very excited to welcome Michael Huth as the new CTO of XAIN AG. He will be taking over from interim CTO, Daniel Beutel, who will be heading the AI team moving forward (more news to follow).
We interviewed Michael to get a better understanding of his upcoming role, responsibilities, and vision here at XAIN – This is what he had to say :
“I grew up in rural Germany, on the Bavarian side of the river Main. I went to a school for the humanities and then did my military service in the state of Hessen.
Thereafter, I enrolled for mathematics at the Technical Hochschule in Darmstadt and received my Diploma Mathematica after 4 years. Following that, I wanted to spend at least a year abroad with an opportunity to become a graduate student at the Tulane University of Louisiana in order to study mathematics for a PhD. This was a very rewarding experience, because it opened me up to a global research community and broadened my research interests to reach into computer science and programming languages and their validation. After a couple of Post-Docs in the US, the UK and Germany, I then took on a tenure-track position at Kansas State University, which I held for 5 years, and then I received an offer from Imperial College London, where I am now a full professor in computer science.
My current research interests span programming language design and verification, mathematical optimization and the trustworthiness of cyber-physical systems and systems designed for the Internet of Things.
How did you come to be involved in XAIN AG and what can you tell us about your relationship to its founder Leif Lundbæk?
I got to know Leif through an email which he sent to me saying that he was interested in doing a PhD and if I was willing to meet with him at Imperial. His background seemed interesting, and so I set up a meeting and was quite impressed with his maturity, focus and also a certain purposefulness in how he presented his desire to do a PhD and how this related to his future plans, including the formation of a company. So I encouraged him to apply for a PhD position and helped source funding for this qualification.
Leif has been a model PhD student. I remember his initial review document that he sent me at the beginning of his studies was a 120-page survey of the current state-of-the-art in blockchain technology and cryptography, which was really impressive. We have co-authored several papers together, some of which are published in very reputable places, such as the Royal Society Open Science Journal, and whilst I am still acting in a supervisory capacity in my academic role, it’s fair to say that we have become more of collaborators, which is also a desired evolution in a PhD supervision towards the end of a student’s PhD studies.
What I particularly like about my relationship with Leif is that he brings in this drive for innovation and lots of young energy, whereas I can complement this with a lot of experience, but also pair this up with my own sense of adventure which I’ve always nurtured throughout my career.
You are going to be joining XAIN AG as CTO, what are your priorities for your first year in the role?
One of the priorities is to lead the research and development on access control within the FROST technology which XAIN is currently developing. This relies on my expertise in the design and verification of policy languages for access control, blockchain technology and its mathematical modeling, and the design and validation of domain-specific programming languages. This work will build a technology layer on top of which XAIN and other companies and organizations can build products and services for a more user-centric and value-creating way of sharing access to data, machines, and resources.
Another priority is to create strong synergies across the different engineering teams at XAIN. The company has hugely talented engineers, researchers, and developers in blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning and cybersecurity. In combining these skills we can produce technical innovations that support XAIN’s medium to long-term strategy and will be a unique value proposition for its clients.
My 3rd priority is to ensure that research and development on XAIN technology will align with strategy and product within the company. It is important to develop and offer technology that is workable and not over-engineered. But we also mean to encourage its development and evolution within a larger open-source ecosystem nurtured within a neutral foundation.
You are working on developing FROST, an access control framework for H2M and M2M communication. What problems is this framework addressing?
The control and access to data and resources are often very static or added as an afterthought into existing systems. Also in most of today’s systems, owners of data and resources may appear to be in control of said data and resources, but this may well be an illusion as illustrated by the recent scandals involving well known social media networks. The FROST technology is aiming to put users in genuine control of their data and things. This includes the ability to delegate fine-grained access rights or even the ability to articulate and run access-control policies. The manufacturer of a car may want access rights to build and maintain a numerical passport of the vehicle throughout its lifecycle. A car dealer may wish to control those aspects of the vehicle that pertain to a leasing arrangement with a client. The client, in turn, may wish to be able to delegate access rights to the vehicle, for example, to open the trunk for a delivery or to allow family members to use the vehicle within certain specified conditions. The FROST language can articulate such policies that delegation relationships, as well as obligations that accesses, may trigger.
What are the key features of this framework?
1st the FROST language as a means of articulating access-control policies suitable for open, distributed systems
2nd, cybersecurity protocols that allow devices to authenticate policies and their delegation structure prior to their enforcement.
3rd a policy administration and decision architecture that is physically much closer to the machines.
4th the ability to process access-control requests both online and offline
5th, the use of blockchain technologies to make the manipulation of policies and their security state practically impossible
What are some of the most prominent use cases for the framework?
A generic use-case is that of a data-sharing platform. Companies are very reluctant to expose their database API’s to 3rd parties and rightly so. The extreme alternative and often practised is to take raw data, put them in a CSV file and send them as an email attachment to a 3rd party — this is hardly a secure solution. It also limits the way in which data and insights can be shared across different parties.
XAIN can offer a data-sharing platform interface as a XAIN SDK through which companies and organizations can write their own decentralized application for an auditable and fine-grained way of sharing data and insights across parties, for sake of illustration. Consider the producer of safety-critical parts for railways, an operator of railways and an operator of a railway infrastructure including tracks. They all stand to benefit from shared access to data on parts, tracks, trains and so forth. these sharing capabilities can also open up potential new revenue streams.
XAIN’s data-sharing platform comes with a big-data platform, upon which the FROST technology and A.I engines are put. That way big-data marketplaces can easily be built on top of this platform. The FROST technology can also accommodate tokens — native or otherwise. This is particularly exciting because we could imagine access to data and resources as being something that is tradable, for example in a dutch auction with access to specific big-data sets.
What does the current development roadmap look like?
At the moment we are working on several, minimal viable products and the development for that should be concluded in the autumn. We’re also planning and initiating some bigger projects that will be closer to production or actually into production by 2019. By 2019, we also plan to offer FROST technology in open-source form within the XAIN foundation.
Will you be continuing your professorship in the department of computing at Imperial College, London?
Yes, but my role as CTO means that my academic role will continue at a reduced rate. It is important to maintain my academic connection and activity given the heavy research focus of XAIN AG. Innovation and bringing research knowledge into practice is part of Imperial’s DNA and I feel privileged to be part of this institution, which is globally ranked in the top ten of universities.
What major challenges are you currently facing and how will you overcome them?
The roadmap I outlined has considerable human resources and talent — one challenge is therefore to recruit excellent people across the entire spectrum of the company. Engineers, blockchain programmers, machine learning specialists, and those who work on product marketing and communications.
Another challenge is to help XAIN AG into its next stage as a startup. With its moving to the centre of Berlin and the closing of an impressive seed round of funding, it faces raised expectations we want to meet and exceed, by producing outstanding and value-creating technology.
What is it like to work at XAIN? Are there any other exciting ventures you can share with us?
Working with the fine people at XAIN has been very positive. I really like the creative buzz within XAIN, but also that its great people understand what the mission of the company is and that they work very hard in creating outstanding technology. With London being the current home of my family and me, it’s certainly going to be a challenge to discharge my role as CTO for a company that’s headquartered in Berlin. At the same time, I’m quite excited to be spending more time in the capital city of my own country which I haven’t spent much time in during my previous life. I am grateful and excited to have been given this opportunity and I will serve in this role with humility and a healthy adrenaline rush.”