2084: Cryptography, Magic, and Politics

24 November 2016, 17:00 - 18:30

SG1 & SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge

This event is free and open to all, please register via the link above 

Please note: the title of this talk differs from the one originally advertised

About the speaker:

Thomas Rid is a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.

His most recent book is Rise of the Machines (June 2016). It tells the sweeping story of how cybernetics, a late-1940s theory of machines, came to incite anarchy and war half a century later. His recent research article, “Attributing Cyber Attacks,” was designed to explain, guide, and improve the identification of network breaches (Journal of Strategic Studies, 2015). Rid’s book Cyber War Will Not Take Place (Oxford University Press/Hurst 2013) analysed political computer network intrusions; a Chinese translation is forthcoming with the People’s Publishing House. His text “Deterrence Beyond the State” (Contemporary Security Policy 2012) opened a fresh conceptual angle on the deterrence debate by exploring Israel’s experience with non-state militants. His articles have appeared in major English, French, and German peer-reviewed journals as well as magazines and news outlets.


Where does the extraordinary political and emotional appeal of encryption come from? To understand the future of the politics of encryption, we must first understand its past. The art and science of secret writing had a unique, dark, and magnetic appeal for centuries. Indeed the origins of the study of secret writing are not in science and mathematics, but in ‘magick’ thinking of the Renaissance. Yet 20th-century historians of cryptography have deliberately ignored the non-scientific history of secret writing. As encryption is becoming ever more ubiquitous and ever more politically charged, it is time to confront its ancient angels and demons.