Here's a piece by Adam Shostack, bandleader at Emergent Chaos – which, by the way, is a way cool blog. Here he is talking about what it takes to get technology from the synapse into the family room. In my view, the identity problem is one of the hardest problems computer science has ever faced. I've been working on it since the mid eighties myself. And the job is far from done.
The truth is, cryptography is just one part of a much bigger problem that is insoluable using crypto alone. This said, I couldn't be more respectful of the contribution by cryptographers.
Quick! Name the speaker:
“In a lot of countries, statements like “this person is over 18”, “this person is a citizen”, the governments will sign those statements. When you go into a chat room, for example, in Belgium, they’ll insist that you present not necessarily the thing that says who you are, but the thing that says the government says I’m over 18. This trust ecosystem has so much good designed for privacy. This thing is amazing, where you can prove who you are to a third party and then, in the actual usage, they don’t know who you are. A lot of the previous designs had the idea that if you authenticated, then you gave up privacy. There are lots of cases where you want to be authentic but not give up your privacy – or not give up your privacy except in extreme cases. ”
No, it's not Austin Hill, circa 1999. I'd be happier if Zero-Knowledge had made us all rich, but I'm happy that the ideas that we evangelized, and that Credentica and others are building… I'm happy that these ideas are spreading to the point where Bill Gates presents them in an interview. There's a great many longtime former cypherpunks out there, helping people imagine a better future.
That imagining is important. Phillip Hallam-Baker (who has the best roundup of the RSA Cryptographers Panel I've seen) quotes Ron Rivest:
It takes about 15 years for ideas to go from concept to use. Identity based crypto may be becoming the right approach to authenticated email.
What happens along that 15 year path is that a lot of small companies come along, build great new technologies that solve a part of a problem, and then eventually, through iteration, creative destruction, skill and luck, one of them builds something that really does a great job for customers.