Fortune smiles upon fools

Anh-Thi Dinh
Reading the book The code book by Simon Sign (author of Fermat's Last Theorem), I summarized a story like this.
Since ancient times, people have realized the importance of communication and the need to hide the content of letters to avoid curiosity from others. However, the scientific and technical knowledge of that time only allowed them to conceal the letters instead of encrypting them. Concealing a letter means that the content and form of the letter remain unchanged, only the goal is to prevent curious people from finding the letter. On the other hand, encrypting a letter means that even if it falls into the hands of a malicious person, they will not know the content of the letter.
Through the urgent needs of war, fast and secure communication, the art of hiding letters evolved step by step to encryption. Letters were encoded from basic to complex. It started with swapping or replacing letters with different ones in the letter, something that almost any child today can do, but in the past, it was a breakthrough.
But as encryption techniques advanced, so did the art of decryption. Behind the scenes of fierce battles, a relentless struggle unfolded between cryptographers and code breakers. The code makers had to devise increasingly intricate encryption methods to prevent talented code breakers on the other side from deciphering their messages. At times, the code makers emerged victorious, employing techniques such as letter substitution, multiple letter substitutions, the Vigenère cipher, and the military's Enigma machine. Breaking these codes seemed nearly impossible. However, through unwavering determination, code breakers ultimately triumphed. They employed frequency analysis to crack codes with single letter substitutions, as well as more sophisticated methods to decipher codes with multiple letter substitutions and Vigenère ciphers. Eventually, mathematician Alan Turing's machines, based on the earlier work of Rejewski, were able to break seemingly impenetrable codes generated by the Enigma machine during World War II.
Until the invention of the semiconductor and the establishment of the computer industry, encrypting communication became a mandatory trend in everyday life not only for the military and government but also for businesses and regular individuals. They wanted their letters to be sent under a truly secure cover, so that when they arrived, only the designated recipient could open and read it. Before sending, they had to encrypt the letter along with a key to decrypt it. The crucial issue was how to prevent curious people from knowing that key, while ensuring that the recipient could decrypt the letter.
The requirement for a key and the recipient having knowledge of it made the encryption process no longer the most important, but rather focused on how to make the recipient aware of that key. If they spoke the key to each other over the phone, eavesdroppers would also know it. Therefore, the only option left was to meet in person and agree on the key. But if they used the same key for multiple letters, sooner or later, eavesdroppers would find it, so it was necessary to regularly change the key or, in other words, to meet frequently.
This became a significant issue for companies with many customers, especially insurance companies, banks, and financial institutions. They had to communicate confidential information with thousands or even tens of thousands of customers in a day, and of course, all letters had to be encrypted. But the number of keys was also large, so how could customers know the key that the company had used? It was impossible to meet each customer in person to tell them, as the number and time would be enormous.
For a long time after the democratization of encryption, the issue of distributing keys was considered an unsolvable problem. The whole world accepted it and sought alternative ways to minimize inconvenience rather than trying to break the inconvenience.
Fortunately, among millions of scientists who accepted that harsh reality, there were still naive and foolish individuals who ventured to find a solution. The beginning was Whitfield Diffie (a cryptographer), Martin Hellman (a professor at Stanford University), and Ralph Merkle (an intellectual refugee). These three foolish individuals turned a deaf ear to everything and embarked on an impossible task.
Hellman once said, "Ralph, like us, was willing to be a fool. And the way to get to the top of the heap in terms of developing original research is to be a fool, because only fools keep trying. You have idea number 1, you get excited, and it ops. Then you have idea number 2, you get excited, and it ops. Then you have idea number 99, you get excited, and it ops. Only a fool would be excited by the 100th idea, but it might take 100 ideas before one really pays o. Unless you’re foolish enough to be continually excited, you won’t have the motivation, you won’t have the energy to carry it through. God rewards fools.”
I will pause the storytelling for now. There are many things that you take for granted in this life, but they were once considered unbreakable. Perhaps you have the life you have today thanks to the foolishness of countless fools.
Sometimes you should also be foolish to solve the problems that you think life is playing against you. Eventually, they will be resolved, the important thing is whether you are foolish enough to pursue them to the end or not.
Perhaps that's why Steve Jobs once said, "Stay hungry, stay foolish."
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