1998-05-05 - Re: Explaining crypto to people (was Re: A new Swiss banking novel)

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From: Xcott Craver <caj@math.niu.edu>
To: mgraffam@mhv.net
Message Hash: 3583697beb961f51d8edd06ac373a3ff5c7ae462a2eb5578bbefb153df5bb731
Message ID: <Pine.SUN.3.91.980505180604.23912A-100000@baker>
Reply To: <Pine.LNX.3.96.980505025206.25569A-100000@localhost>
UTC Datetime: 1998-05-05 23:28:53 UTC
Raw Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 16:28:53 -0700 (PDT)

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From: Xcott Craver <caj@math.niu.edu>
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998 16:28:53 -0700 (PDT)
To: mgraffam@mhv.net
Subject: Re: Explaining crypto to people (was Re: A new Swiss banking novel)
In-Reply-To: <Pine.LNX.3.96.980505025206.25569A-100000@localhost>
Message-ID: <Pine.SUN.3.91.980505180604.23912A-100000@baker>
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On Tue, 5 May 1998 mgraffam@mhv.net wrote:

> Having said that, I don't really think it is necessary to go around
> saying "Crypto is like a bomb" either. Crypto _can_ be used as a defensive
> or an offensive weapon, however the same technology can be used for
> authentication and digital cash and loads of other neat stuff. I'll
> preach about all of them, especially those that I personally have an
> interest in.. authentication, digital cash and secure email. 

	Which is my point.  Crypto can be seen as a weapon, just like 
	it can be seen as a very strong safe.  The public doesn't have
	a very strong conception of what this crypto stuff _is_, and
	so they're going to suck a lot more than you intended out of 
	whatever analogy you pick.  If you say "bomb," they'll think
	"bomb."  And this generates misconceptions.

> Certain analogies are useful in certain instances. When useful to
> make the analogy to firearms, it _can_ be an excellent one.. so can
> a lock. 
> Last time I checked though, padlocks aren't a hot topic for debate as
> to their being banned. Crypto, in certain aspects, is.

	Again, my point.  Padlocks and safes are *not* under the gun,
	so to speak.  People will not see crypto regulation as silly
	if they keep getting fed bomb and gun analogies.  They'd think
	it was damned silly if they got padlock and safe analogies.
	Remember, many people are still fuzzy about just what this stuff 
	is that the govt. is trying to regulate.  

	I mean, when's the last time you saw someone defending their
	choice of buying a padlock?  Or saying that, "look, a padlock
	_can_ be used by criminals, but I'm a responsible adult."
	Nobody thinks of evil terrorists when they see a padlock on
	the store shelf, and that's the way it should be with crypto.

> > 	It is chillingly naive to defend an argument on the grounds
> > 	that when dissected logically it is a true statement.  
> Are you suggesting that I should defend and argument, when looked at
> logically is false?

	Not at all.  Nobody's suggesting that anyone lie.  Rather:
> One can take many true statements and present them in a way to
> make things seem to be what they are not.

	...and one can do this by accident as well.  I believe that
	telling people crypto is "like a gun" is exactly this.  And
	this is why I feel the firearm analogies should be dropped
	when explaining crypto to people.  

> > 	Dropping a flawed analogy isn't covering the truth.  Rather,
> > 	keeping the analogy distorts the truth.
> See, I don't think that the analogy to weaponry is all that far off.
> The exact same software that could let me sign my documents or
> order neat stuff over the web can use the exact same algorithms
> for transmitting designs for bombs.

	Then envelopes are weapons.  Stamps are weapons.  Fax
	machines are weapons.

	Now, I know, you're thinking, "yes, technically, they are."
	But remember, again, that we're talking about explaining
	the concept of crypto to people who are pretty much new
	to it.  They have no idea how literal your analogy is.
	The phrase, "the pen is mightier than the sword"
	would have a wholly different effect on people if they
	had no idea what a "pen" was.

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