Words Misunderstood: Trust

The "Words Misunderstood" series, which previously discussed "learning," "values," "money," "nation," and "virtual," is making a comeback. Today, let's discuss a concept that is ancient and at the core of blockchain: trust.

Don't Trust. Verify.

If I were to use a Chinese-English dictionary that simply matched a few Chinese words to explain "trust," "doubt," "lack of trust," and "no doubt" would probably be defined as synonyms and antonyms of trust. Finally, there is a concept that is neither, and my language skills are insufficient to translate it well: trustless.

Trustless is not trust, but it is not intentional doubt either. Trustless does not mean there is no trust in individuals, but it does not think that any organization is beyond doubt. In short, it means not making any presuppositions, not subscribing to arguments such as "because it is so-and-so, it must be trustworthy," and adopting the attitude of "Don't Trust. Verify." To satisfy this attitude, a verifiable mechanism is needed.

I have spent half a day in a Hong Kong-style tea restaurant and heard people discussing trust and blockchain more than once. "Isn't blockchain supposed to solve the trust problem? Why do things like xxx still happen? So, I won't trust things that use blockchain." xxx can be replaced with FTX, certain coins, certain NFT projects, etc., as you wish. The implication is that since blockchain "solves the trust problem," we should be able to trust services that (claim to) use blockchain.

This is a beautiful misunderstanding, a misunderstanding in opposite directions.

The so-called solution to the "trust problem" by blockchain, or to put it in my words, blockchain is trustless, really means that it provides an open, transparent, and verifiable mechanism that allows people not to blindly trust individuals or organizations and satisfies the attitude of "Don't Trust. Verify."

Blindly trusting the power of authorities and giant corporations is the easiest and most convenient, but it is a double-edged sword. On the other hand, blockchain not only does not save time and effort for the public to judge what is trustworthy but also requires users to learn to judge, spend energy to distinguish truth from falsehood, and make higher demands on people. However, if you can maintain a trustless attitude in life, it is like exercising every day to strengthen your body, accumulating knowledge and improving yourself, and gradually understanding how the world works.

Open-source is the best way for software to gain trust

I heard what you said in your heart: "I'm a computer idiot and can only give up and choose to trust traditional systems and large companies."

Hold on. Knowing how to read code is certainly good, but even for those of us who don't know how to write or read code, a trustless attitude still has significant implications for everyday life. In fact, who can understand all programming languages? Even if there really is such a genius, there is no time to review the code of all tools, unless you are one of those humans in The Matrix who can see code as images after taking the blue pill.

Therefore, even with a trustless attitude, most of the time it still comes down to "keeping your word". Isn't this contradicting ourselves? No, what was said earlier was not blind trust in individuals or organizations, submission to the appeal to authority, and a lack of evidence-based reasoning. But what is being discussed here is trust in a group of people and organizations, trust in their collective ability, and trust in the decentralization of regions and other levels, which can prevent the incentive to cheat.

Let's take a specific example. We believe that there is very little chance of backdoors in software such as Linux, Android, and Signal, not because we have the ability and time to read all the relevant code and confirm that the version in use is compiled from the same code, but because in the open-source ecosystem, programmers from all over the world participate, and the more widely used the software, the less likely it is to have a backdoor added without being exposed.

In contrast, I am wary of closed software such as "Anxin Travel". This is not because I am biased against the Hong Kong government, but because it is a black box, and the community has no effective way to check and verify its security. Even if professional security testing results are available, the government only skims over them and passes them off as code secrets.

Moreover, trust also has different levels. Even if you trust the government's integrity 100%, to err is human, and software must have bugs, which may lead to security vulnerabilities. Verification is the basis of trust, and you cannot ask people to trust you unconditionally without making the source code public.

Don't use doubtful people, don't doubt those you use.

If the logic above seems too complicated and technical, we can completely abandon technology and discuss the practice of the "Don't trust. Verify." attitude towards life.

The traditional wisdom says "Don't use doubtful people, don't doubt those you use." It is both wise and meaningless, and it is often used by managers to hide their own doubts and make their subordinates believe that they are completely trusted, which makes management easier. Some managers even boast about being able to read people accurately, but if that were true, they should become fortune-tellers instead.

What managers really need to do is to establish trustless workflows as much as possible. On the one hand, this eliminates the need for subjective judgment of who is suspicious and who is trustworthy. On the other hand, it also avoids exposing employees to potential risks, where they are forced to prove their integrity after something goes wrong.

Some employers deliberately set traps, such as putting a domestic helper in an environment where it is easy to steal money during the initial employment period. They then evaluate the helper's trustworthiness based on whether there is any loss. This is an extremely vicious practice, not only because of its deceitful nature, but also because of its illogical reasoning.

Unless you can honestly say that you could lose money without knowing where it went, such as during sleepwalking, do not claim that you "absolutely trust" others. Management policies should be as trustless as possible. Regardless of whether it's the first day on the job or ten years into the job, do not leave your valuables lying around or fail to count the money during transactions. This is not only for your own protection, but also to be responsible to others and avoid putting them in embarrassing situations when mistakes happen.


Although I present myself as being wise and impervious to deceit, that is another beautiful misunderstanding.

In reality, I am naive and easily deceived in daily life. I would never buy products in stores that I have never heard of or look at, but I would willingly give my credit card information to crowdfunding campaigns that trigger my innate desire to help. I have paid for products that I never received repeatedly. An old colleague sold me a mining contract, and without hesitation, I bought two shares. A year later, the colleague disappeared. I have lent money to support like-minded people, and it was not surprising when I couldn't get it back, but what was unexpected was that even the ”like-mind“ was fake.

But there are exceptions. One particular exception made me deeply regretful.

One day, a friend who I hadn't contacted in a long time messaged me on Facebook, and I happened to read it even though I usually don't read Facebook messages. The message said that he had cancer and wanted to tell me. Having lived in a country where trust between people has been completely destroyed by the Cultural Revolution and then undergoing trustless baptism by blockchain technology, my reflexes activated my defense mechanism, and I even suspected that the account was stolen. I sent a few words of greeting, intending to find a way to verify the message later. However, before I could verify it, I received news of my friend's death. My friend even shared their thoughts with me on their deathbed, but I missed the opportunity to visit him because of my suspicion. Attending the funeral would not have made any difference, and I could only despise myself.

Although we may end up with bruises and scars, sometimes we can only stay foolish and choose to believe.


Written in Chinese as 誤解辭典:信任. Translated by ChatGPT.

Subscribe to kin ko
Receive the latest updates directly to your inbox.
Mint this entry as an NFT to add it to your collection.
This entry has been permanently stored onchain and signed by its creator.