The annual International Crypto Conference, run by the International Association for Cryptologic Research, was first held in 1981. Since then, its dedicated attendees have come to expect a few things: it will take place on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus; There will be a beach barbecue; People will stay in hostels and forget to bring towels; There will be chocolate covered strawberries on Sunday night.
If you’ve been wondering how the crypto convention could have been for the past 40-plus years, you’re not alone. This year’s general chair, Alison Bishop, says some people who have contacted her about sponsorship are shocked when she tells them how old the convention is. But “crypto” does not specifically refer to “cryptocurrency”. It is also shorthand for cryptology, or cryptography, which is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of adversarial behavior.
Essentially, cryptology is about taking control of communications, Bishop explains: being able to use a credit card online without someone else stealing it, for example. Bishop is an expert in the field, and her various related endeavors, including teaching part-time at CUNY, leading a financial startup, and doing stand-up comedy, may make you wonder how she has the time to do it all. (“I balance them” badly, for the moment,” she laughs).
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“I’m trying to go from more theoretical to more practical.”
Bishop did not always intend to pursue a career in crypto. In fact, as an undergraduate at Princeton University, he considered creative writing for a time. But after taking her first semester with three death-related writing courses, as well as a number theory class, the latter seemed “very cheerful in comparison”, and Bishop eventually turned her attention to mathematics.
Bishop earned a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Cambridge and a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Texas at Austin. After that, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research New England and joined the faculty of Columbia University in 2013, but, as an academic, she realized that there were real problems in data science and cyber security to be solved. They lack the resources to do so.
“I’ve been on a trajectory of trying to go from the more theoretical to the more practical,” Bishop explains, “and not because I don’t like theory—I love the systematic and rigorous way of problem-solving that theorists do. Have – but I want to work on problems that affect people.
“And I got very frustrated with mathematicians asking, ‘Okay, but what are the applications?’ And I would get answers like, ‘Oh, that’s so important for sixth-dimensional geometry,'” he continues. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I mean people.'”
So Bishop jumped into the industry, considering himself a “partly reformed academic.” Today, she is the president and co-founder of Proof Trading, a startup launching an institutional broker-dealer for US equities. Although Bishop acknowledges the connection between the startup’s work and its cryptography background, he insists that, once again, it has nothing to do with cryptocurrency.
“I get asked this a lot,” laughs Bishop. “It is in some sense fairly regular vanilla finance. We design trading algorithms for institutional clients such as hedge funds. We are designing how to take their large orders and cut them into smaller pieces so that you can market them a little bit. Do not transfer time and price in large quantities.
“All of our competitors are very secretive about their algorithms,” Bishop continues, “and there’s a sort of parallel to cryptography — if someone is very secretive about how they’re doing encryption, that’s a bad sign. If someone’s like, ‘I have a cool new way to encrypt data and I can’t tell you how it works,’ then it’s probably broken. Public scrutiny is how we get good algorithms. So we wanted to take that philosophy into finance.”
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“Humor is such a powerful tool for cutting ego and defensiveness.”
Bishop is interested in how crypto can solve real-world problems, but she also sees humor in it—which makes for great material for her stand-up comedy routine. That’s right, Bishop is also a comedian; She regularly performs at The Symposium, an academic stand-up show held at Warning, Bishop debuted with comedy after attending the L.A. Open Mic with comedian Pat Bishop, the show’s co-creator on Comedy Central. incorporated and co-writer and co-producer on the upcoming Hulu series Idiot,
“I’d look at stand-up comics a lot,” says Bishop, “and that’s what got me thinking, Oh, I could do this. it’s not that hard. If you’re a fan of comedy and you only go to shows with really cool people you’ve heard of, like Eddie Izzard or Jim Gaffigan, you think, It’s so hard, I could never do it, But if you go to open mic, you’re like, oh, most people are bad, this Well,
So Bishop gave stand-up a shot in 2015, then went on to write comedy sketches. She also staged musical parody numbers at crypto conventions. For Bishop, comedy is another way to make a real impact with his work.
“The most important thing scientists are dealing with is impact,” explains Bishop. “How do we engage people? How do we empower them to reason through science? Humor is such a powerful tool to cut arrogance and defensiveness and many other things that hinder scientific development and thinking. “
Cutting the ego in science can be difficult. In his early graduate school days, Bishop remembered reading research papers that all seemed to prove what his authors had set out to prove, and thought, Why doesn’t this happen to me? This is because many people Don’t Exactly the problems they want to solve, Bishop explains: They make another discovery along the way and write their papers as if that was the intention.
But Bishop sees value in failure – so much so that it inspired him to launch CFAIL, the Conference for Fail Approach and Insightful Loss in Cryptology. (“A little dig at CSAL, which is the cryptography group at MIT,” laughs Bishop).
“We have an annual event where we publish papers that talk about the insightful failures of people along the way,” Bishop says. “I introduced comedy incidents in that process because it felt like the way we get into the mood for people to talk and embrace failure. You’re not going to have a very serious talk with someone like a senior. The researcher admits something that has gone wrong. You need an environment to live in the fun of it.”
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“I’m excited about giving people this experience back — about reclaiming it.”
This year’s International Crypto Conference will run from 13-18 August.
Bishop says she is looking forward to the hybrid format of the conference, as a virtual alternative, initially offered out of necessity at the height of the pandemic, continues to expand access. But the bishops are also eager to return to the convention personally and to all the traditions that go with it.
“I’m excited about giving people this experience back — about reclaiming it,” Bishop says.