Keyrings Larger than Two Men

by redshift

I don’t like __keys__. I never have. I don’t like carrying around a pound of jingly metal in my pocket, but you have to nowadays to survive. Keys are perhaps the single oldest surviving design we still use today. The ancient Egyptians used the same design for pin tumbler locks that we do, and they weren’t the first. Why the hell are they still around?

If you think it’s a trivial point, consider how often you use your keys every day. I know I rely on my damn keyring at least ten times daily. I don’t know why. Keys are just small hunks of metal that open our prized possessions, and happen to be easily reproducible enough to allow anyone *else* with sixty seconds to open them as well. Any locksmith will tell you that the locks we normally use are near-pointless to anyone determined to open them. We’ve had better designs since the 1700s, but they’re not practical for daily use so we’re stuck with Ol’ Tumbley.

We have so many better options today. We could use keycards like at hotels, which are just as indestructible as a key and fit in your wallet. They can be reprogrammed easily if you don’t trust your lock and copied easily for backups. Biometric systems are easy and don’t even require you to carry a key, though there has been trouble with practicality and guaranteeing identification.

What I would propose is a form of electronic key, somewhat similar to a USB key, maybe a tad smaller. Encased in titanium, a tiny solid-state chip could hold encrypted our “keys” to anything. Better yet, they could hold *all* your keys in one device – no need for a “chipring” or the like. This would offset the greater cost of obtaining the key. *(not that it would be expensive, they could be made for a few dollars right now)* The keys could use a form of public-key cryptography with high-bit encryption of your secret keys; the public key would be stored in the lock so that any examination of the lock would be futile.

With this system, it’d be best to have copies only available at lock-shops like with current keys, so someone with access to your key couldn’t go home and make a copy for personal inspection. It’s still not perfect because of the outside influence, but far, far better than metal keys.

Why do metal keys have an advantage? First, they’re cheap as hell and easy to make. This is an important point. However, USB-key style devices are *rapidly* dropping in price and e-keys wouldn’t require much storage, so price is becoming a non-factor. Plus, with modern manufacturing, the e-key would be almost *easier* to make than a standard key – no grinding required.

Metal keys are indestructible. A titanium-encased e-key is indestructible. My USB key has gotten lots of abuse, including plenty of water, and works great. The real problem is that pin tumbler locks are ubiquitous. It’s the same reason why other designs of standard locks aren’t used – even if they’ve been around 200 years, they’re just not common enough.

We could even incorporate secure RFID technology so you didn’t need to put the key *in* anything. You could just wave it near the lock and it’d open. No more fumbling for keys in the parking lot at night, no more searching for the right key to get into your apartment. No more keys (plural) at all.

_redshift sighs and walks away, with a slight jingling sound._