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The Myth of the Trustless Dapp

Preethi Kasireddy has covered this ground before. We should first learn from her wisdom before we set out again:

I’ve come to realize that the term “trustless” is ambiguous, confusing, and most importantly, inaccurate. (Blockchains) distribute trust (by using economics to) incentivize actors to cooperate with the rules defined by the protocol.

This post will demonstrate that decentralized apps also use incentives and rules to produce cooperation such that everyone is benefited. Trusting the rules doesn’t mean we blindly trust the individual actors.

The next time someone asks me, “Is your app trustless?”

I will likely be tempted to ask them, “can you please be more specific?” Unfortunately I’m not presented with this question but more commonly the accusation, “why isn’t your app trustless?” To which I’m tempted to respond, “why isn’t your question accurate?” I’m not trying to be rude but you don’t walk into a factory and tell the owner, “gee this is a really nice factory you have here, why isn’t it workerless?”

Myths such as the workerless factory, the paperless office or the cashless society have been with us for more than a decade and we’ve yet to see them manifest themselves in any absolute way at scale. We have factories with greater automation, offices with greener policies and societies that rely more on digital transactions. We do not yet have absolute demonstrations of the ideal. This is because implementation exists to varying degrees and rarely in absolute terms. A term is poorly defined if it means different things to different people and trustless is one of these words. A perfectly trustless app does not exist. Every decentralized app is on a spectrum of trust where complete trustlessness for all threat models is an ideal. No one has yet achieved it, anyone who would tell you otherwise is lying to you.

I’ve had a few contacts since my prior blog post make this type of suggestion. At first my reaction was that some non-t...

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