Since the 1960s we have been told that new computing technologies are ushering in a new era: the Computer Revolution and Knowledge Economy (1962), Global Village and One-Dimensional Man (1964), the Third (1975) and the Fourth (2015) Industrial Revolutions(s). There was never a consensus on which kind of computational techniques were behind the change. Then in the 1990s a number of humanities academics discovered the Internet. They used their understanding of its technical architecture to define the relevant properties of computation that were behind our emerging network society. Canonical scholarship emerged (Castells 1996) alongside cyberlibertarian visions (Barlow 1996) that told much the same story: computer networks were not only naturally decentralized and liberating, they were welcome solvents on the old, centralized order. When cryptography burst into public (and humanist) consciousness, it could only make things even better by further empowering the individual.
In my talk I want to offer a different characterization of the relationship between computer networks, cryptography, and their consequences for society. To do so, I go back to one of the beginnings, to Paul Baran's Distributed Adaptive Message Block Network, as outlined in his canonical On Distributed Communications--drawing in particular on the formerly classified twelfth volume of this series. Rather than envision networks as naturally distributed and open, Baran can help us better characterize them as naturally closed, encrypted, and at odds with individual liberty. I will discuss other reasons for this claim, as well as its consequences--offering an outline of what networks mean when we build cryptography into their identity and function.
I am a historian of computing, and use historical analysis to improve outcomes for STEM and tech policy organizations and research projects. I specialize in the evolution of computer network protocols, architectures, security, and technical management. I work as an Assistant Professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in the Science, Technology, and Society Program. I have projects underway for Google, Lockheed Martin, the National Science Foundation, ICANN, and MIT Press. Previously I was a researcher with the UCLA Computer Science Department.