In a thought-provoking paper presented at this year’s TPRC Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy, Internet scholar Kevin Werbach explains how the use of blockchain technology creates a new kind of trust architecture, which Werbach calls “trustless trust.”
Most existing trust relationships are based on a centralized “Leviathan” trust architecture where the state or another centralized authority (for example a central bank) acts as the trusted party of last resort. Other trust architectures are fully decentralized, operating on a peer-to-peer basis. Many human relationships are based on peer-to-peer trust, such as trusting a family member to feed your pet while you’re gone. Werbach argues that blockchain introduces a third kind of trust architecture, “trustless trust,” which is a system in which “it is possible to trust the outputs of a system without trusting any actor within it”. Yet Werbach warns that blockchain’s technical reliability should not be confused with trust. “Trust is a manifestation of goodwill of the one being trusted” – it involves a “positive expectation about the other party and a willingness to be vulnerable”, yet blockchain has neither of these attributes.
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