Saturday, May 17, 2008

The history of Alice and Bob

The Alice and Bob approach to cryptography is brilliant on so many levels:
  • It personalizes the discussion, rather than dealing with impersonal As and Bs
  • It creates a gender-neutral discussion framework
  • It's much more effective at capturing the imagination of the non-expert public (see point 1).
I was wondering about the origin of this coinage. It's attributed to the original RSA paper, and here's what Ron Rivest had to say about it:
RSA co-founder Rivest, who is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, says he came up with Alice and Bob to be able to use "A" and "B" for notation, and that by having one male and one female, the pronouns "he" and "she" could be used in descriptions. Rivest says it is possible that Alice came to mind because he is something of an Alice in Wonderland buff.
If you've wondered about the deeper personal lives of Alice and Bob, go no further than this speech. And for more on the extended Alice and Bob family, check out the wikipedia entry. (xkcd has more on the sad tale of the maligned other woman Eve).

1 comment:

  1. when evil Eve comes into play it's not so gender neutral anymore ;-)


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