Brown Bag: Quinn DuPont on “Alice and Bob: A Critical History of Cryptography’s Most Famous Couple”

Posted on Jan 19, 2017
February 1, 2017
12:00 pmto1:00 pm

Quinn DuPont will be speaking from noon-1pm, in Clearihue A303, about “Alice and Bob: A Critical History of Cryptography’s Most Famous Couple.” Bring your lunch and join us!

The Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory at the University of Victoria ( invites you to attend the first meeting of the 2016-17 Brown Bag Speaker Series. This is a series of informal lunchtime seminars for faculty and graduate students in the Department of Humanities and across the university to discuss issues in digital literacy, digital humanities, and the changing face of research, scholarship, and teaching in our increasingly digital world. For an hour once per month, we meet to hear from an invited speaker, share ideas, and build knowledge.

On Wednesday, February 1st, from 12 until 1 p.m., Quinn Dupont (Rutgers Digital Studies Fellow) will be presenting a talk entitled,

“Alice and Bob: A Critical History of Cryptography’s Most Famous Couple”

Details are below and in the attached poster. Please share this announcement and poster with anyone who might be interested in attending.

Wednesday, February 1st, 12 – 1 p.m.
Clearihue A303, University of Victoria


Alice and Bob: A Critical History of Cryptography’s Most Famous Couple

Quinn DuPont, Rutgers Digital Studies Fellow (presenting author), and Alana Cattapan, Dalhousie University

Since the late 1970s, researchers have used the imaginary couple “Alice and Bob” to discuss how cryptography works—how cryptographic keys are passed, how “attackers” and “eavesdroppers” intervene, and how communication channels are secured. Alice and Bob were invented by Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman in their influential 1978 paper, “A Method for Obtaining Digital Signatures and Public-Key Cryptosystems,” where they personified the abstract symbols “A” and “B.” Originally envisioned as an innocuous aid to make abstract concepts more relatable and accessible, Alice and Bob have since become an intrinsic part of teaching and research about cryptology, as well as fixtures in the mythology of digital culture more generally. In fact, since their invention, they have been used in nearly five thousand academic articles, and at the 2011 RSA Conference (a leading industry meeting) Alice and Bob were the conference theme. In academic and “grey” literature alike, their histories went through countless elaborations and commendations, and developed in gendered and stereotyped ways, often detailing romantic backstories, and subsequently giving birth to a cast of other personified interveners and collaborators.

This paper uses the history of Alice and Bob as a critical case study of how metaphors about technology inform their potential use. Drawing on Haraway’s theorization of optical metaphors in technoscience, we trace the history of Alice and Bob from their seemingly innocuous origins as explanatory tools, through to the ongoing gendered, heteronormative, and racialized ways they have been reimagined in visual and material cultures of cryptology. This research is a small addition to the underexplored critical histories of computing, and therefore, makes a contribution to the humanistic inquiry of digital culture.


Quinn DuPont studies code, cryptography, and information technologies in society, and is an active researcher in digital studies, digital humanities, and media studies. He also writes on Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain technologies, and is currently involved in Canadian SCC/ISO blockchain standardization efforts. He has nearly a decade of industry experience as a Senior Information Specialist at IBM, and IT consulting, usability, and experience design consulting.

Quinn is currently a Rutgers Digital Studies Fellow, and is writing Cryptocurrencies (Polity Press, Digital Media and Society). He can be contacted at and

Bring your lunch and join us to discuss digital technologies and research in our community!



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