Meet Whit Diffie, the man who invented public key cryptography and brought encryption to the masses

Whitfield Diffie, winner of the 2015 Turing Prize, speaks during the 7th Internet Security Conference (ISC).
Whitfield Diffie, winner of the 2015 Turing Prize, speaks during the 7th Internet Security Conference (ISC).
Photo: VCG/Visual China Group/Getty Images

Longtime tech journalist Steven Levy’s new book, Facebook: The Inside Story, details how Mark Zuckerberg transformed a tasteless dorm room social networking experiment into the world’s biggest social networking business. In honor of that release, we thought we’d share an excerpt of an earlier Levy book, Crypto, about a man who ran in the opposite direction of Facebook’s data exploitation and privacy breaches. This is the story of Whit Diffie, who transformed how we think of encryption, paving the way for the digital security we enjoy today.

Bailey Whitfield Diffie, born June 5, 1944, was always an independent sort. As one early friend remarked, “The kid had an alternative lifestyle at age five.” Diffie didn’t read until he was 10 years old. There was no question of disability, he simply preferred that his parents read to him, which seemingly they did, quite patiently. Finally, in the fifth grade, Diffie spontaneously worked his way through a tome called The Space Cat, and immediately progressed to the Oz books. …


‘People You May Know’ helped the social media giant grow exponentially. One man made it happen. An exclusive excerpt from ‘Facebook: The Inside Story’

Founder/CEO of Social Capital, Chamath Palihapitiya, speaks onstage during “The State of the Valley: Where’s the Juice?” at t
Founder/CEO of Social Capital, Chamath Palihapitiya, speaks onstage during “The State of the Valley: Where’s the Juice?” at t
Chamath Palihapitiya. Photo: Mike Windle

Early in her career at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg had a series of conversations with Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook’s vice president of operations.

Palihapitiya was at a crossroads. He had joined Facebook barely a year before, leaving a job as a venture capitalist. Previously, Palihapitiya had been a VP at AOL, the youngest person to hold that position at the company.

During his time there, AOL wound up doing a small deal with Facebook that linked AOL Instant Messenger to Facebook’s website. But the biggest outcome of the deal was the connection Palihapitiya formed with Mark Zuckerberg.

The boisterous Palihapitiya and the more introspective Zuckerberg had similar views about business and tech. Every couple of months or so, the two of them would get together. Inevitably the idea arose that Palihapitiya might join Facebook. …


With Google’s founders withdrawing from management duties, a look back at how the partnership that would organize the world’s information began

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Credit: James Leynse/Getty Images

In the summer of 1995, right before he joined graduate school at Stanford, a 22-year-old Larry Page attended a program for accepted students that included a tour of San Francisco. His tour guide was a Rollerblading, trapeze-loving, mathematically inclined computer science grad student Page’s age who’d been at Stanford for two years.

“I thought he was pretty obnoxious,” Page would later say of the guide, Sergey Brin.

As the son of computer scientists, Page grew up in Lansing, Michigan, with computers as his primary language, later earning a degree in computer science at the University of Michigan. …


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We’re now officially and totally integrated into Wired. But we won’t be gone.

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Dear Backchannel readers,

Steven here. First, the news: Starting with the new year, Backchannel will be fully integrated into WIRED. While this means that there won’t be a weekly drop of Backchannel stories and columns — and we won’t be producing them from solely within a five-person unit — you’ll be still seeing those stories and reading the same writers who produced them when you visit the WIRED site. In fact, Backchannel will live on in the form of a new section on wired.com, which will launch in the coming weeks. More on that to come.

In the meantime, you will still be able to read stories from Jessi Hempel and me on wired.com, and also in the print edition (though I will be writing less this year because of a book leave). Backchannel editors Sandra Upson and Alexis Sobel Fitts will transfer their skills to wired.com, and our associate editor Miranda Katz will become a web producer for the site. All of us are excited to join the WIRED family, and we may even convince our new colleagues to run some meetings in the holocratic style we learned at Medium. …


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Photo by Angela Radulescu, via Flickr (Creative Commons).

We will all miss Oliver Sacks. Let me add my own glancing interaction to all those remembering his influence, whether personal or through his prose (which struck people as very personal, too, whether first person or third). The one long article I wrote for the New Yorker was a profile of Nobel winner Gerald Edelman. After I got the assignment, I learned that it was Sacks who’d suggested me — he had read my book Artificial Life and liked it! I interviewed him for the article at his West Village apartment and we had a delightful afternoon (unforgettable for me) talking about Edelman and a zillion other topics. …


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Greetings to all followers of the Apple Watch Project! We promised that you would keep up to date on what Medium writers thought of Apple’s new timepiece, and invited you to participate by posting your own impressions, as well as recommending, highlighting and responding to the ones in the collection. And we also said that when we reached critical mass, we’d take some of the best passages and compile them into a single, coherent (we hope) review.

And now we’ve done it: the definitive take on the Apple Watch so far — created by 25 Medium writers.

Please take a look. And we’d love you to respond with your own reactions, about the Apple Watch or the review itself.

Steven

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Demis Hassabis. Photo: Souvid Datta/Backchannel

An interview with the co-founder of the most interesting AI startup in the world — now owned by Google.

From the day in 2011 that Demis Hassabis co-founded DeepMind — with funding by the likes of Elon Musk — the UK-based artificial intelligence startup became the most coveted target of major tech companies. In June 2014, Hassabis and his co-founders, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman, agreed to Google’s purchase offer of $400 million. Late last year, Hassabis sat down with Backchannel to discuss why his team went with Google — and why DeepMind is uniquely poised to push the frontiers of AI. …


Hello, followers. We here at the Apple Watch Project (“we” being Steven Levy and Jane Gayduk, our intrepid intern) are thrilled with the response of Medium users to the idea of collecting the best Apple Watch writing on our platform and then using it for a crowd-sourced review.

As we near the finish line for the review, though, we could use some more help. We’d love you to do more highlighting of your favorite passages. (If you aren’t familiar with this super-duper cool feature, here’s the skinny.) And if you have an Apple Watch and have something to say about it (how can you not?). there’s still time to post something to Medium and then ping us at backchannel@medium.com, so we can check it out and include it.

But that time is running out.

Best,

Steven


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Since Apple announced last September that it would begin shipping high-fashion computers that sit on your wrist, the anticipation has been furious. Would this be as big a move as music players were? Tablets? Phones? What would it mean for Apple? What would it mean for us? How many would Karl Lagerfeld buy?

Now that the wait is over everyone is weighing in. Everyone. All the professional reviewers have rendered their verdict, taking pains to emphasize that their judgements are provisional. Most like it, with reservations.

But the reviews that really matter — the ones that will determine not only the true success of the watch but, more important, will report the meaning of a powerful computer in constant contact with our skin — are those of the people who actually paid money to use the watch. They have no agendas outside of sharing their experiences. …


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Apple’s Eddy Cue high fives Drake during the Apple Music introduction at the Apple WWDC on June 8, 2015 in San Francisco

Apple wants to be the music kingmaker. Is that possible in the Internet age?

I had long imagined Apple’s introduction of a streaming music service. It’s been clear for years that history’s arrow is headed towards instant access from a catalog of nearly everything ever recorded. With Spotify and its ilk we already have something like it, and the only thing between us and the full Monty are non-epochal issues of business and implementation. …

About

Steven Levy

Writing for Wired, Used to edit Backchannel here. Just wrote Facebook: The Inside Story.

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