Covert Computation in Self-Assembled Circuits

Authors Angel A. Cantu, Austin Luchsinger, Robert Schweller, Tim Wylie

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Author Details

Angel A. Cantu
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley, USA
Austin Luchsinger
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley, USA
Robert Schweller
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley, USA
Tim Wylie
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley, USA


We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their careful review of our work and for their constructive feedback.

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Angel A. Cantu, Austin Luchsinger, Robert Schweller, and Tim Wylie. Covert Computation in Self-Assembled Circuits. In 46th International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP 2019). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 132, pp. 31:1-31:14, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2019)


Traditionally, computation within self-assembly models is hard to conceal because the self-assembly process generates a crystalline assembly whose computational history is inherently part of the structure itself. With no way to remove information from the computation, this computational model offers a unique problem: how can computational input and computation be hidden while still computing and reporting the final output? Designing such systems is inherently motivated by privacy concerns in biomedical computing and applications in cryptography. In this paper we propose the problem of performing "covert computation" within tile self-assembly that seeks to design self-assembly systems that "conceal" both the input and computational history of performed computations. We achieve these results within the growth-only restricted abstract tile assembly model (aTAM) with positive and negative interactions. We show that general-case covert computation is possible by implementing a set of basic covert logic gates capable of simulating any circuit (functionally complete). To further motivate the study of covert computation, we apply our new framework to resolve an outstanding complexity question; we use our covert circuitry to show that the unique assembly verification problem within the growth-only aTAM with negative interactions is coNP-complete.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Computational complexity and cryptography
  • self-assembly
  • covert circuits


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