Trust in a Trustless World

We keep promising a “trustless” protocols and systems in and around web3, but we rarely deliver on that promise. Maybe it is not even possible to do that. Maybe “trustless” just means “as little trust put into a stranger as possible”. Let’s explore.

Blockchain and web3 (or web5, or web42) promise a trustless environment. Ecosystem where you do not need to trust third parties to manage your funds, to gate access to your belongings, to make sure your “good” is taken care of.

Most often this is a trap – what does it even mean “trustless”?

Merriam-Webster says trustless means “not deserving of trust”. That is exactly the opposite of what web3, crypto and blockchain promise, right?

I believe we cannot get rid of trust. Someone recently told me, while we were arguing about whether crypto & web3 makes any sense, that “people require an authority to look up to and obey”. I think he was not wrong. I believe there is something in our psyche which longs for being able to offload the decisions, to get rid of responsibility, to delegate the worries. Even when you look at our governments – we have elections, we may claim to vote for ther “experts” and those “fit” to lead the country, but all the majority really wants, is to be able to trust the leaders that they will do the right thing on behalf of citizens.

So why does this web3, crypto and blockchain world keep talking about trust like it is something bad?

In my opinion it is about “who” or “what” do you trust. Nothing in web3 is trustless. If we go from the top,

  1. You need to trust the website developer to do everything right, so that you don’t interact with a wrong/malicious contract and lose money.
  2. You need to trust the smart contract developers to not steal your money once you transfer them into the contract (and yes, you can review the code, but audits are hard and often not perfect, so even experts miss potential holes).
  3. You need to trust the miners/validators that they will not stop the chain from running altogether.

I believe we should not strive for trustlessness, but for openness and provability. We will always need to put trust in others, but public blockchain and web3 layers allow us to build a different type of social graph which shows if someone who is giving us an advice actually is trustworthy.

We should be able to find a way to see if and auditor is trustful or trustless based on how many projects rugged after their audit.

We should be able to get reviews and recommendations by other members of community for what we did and then use those reviews as claims when we want or need to prove ourselves to show we are trustful.

We no longer live in small communities where your mother knows all the neigbours and can tell you who to trust. We live in a global world where trust is also a global commodity. We need to find ways how to capture the trust put into us by others to be able to use it when someone is not sure whether to trust us or not.

I believe this is where open public blockchains and web3 approaches can help us a lot.


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