The Trust Machine — Part1: Sybil Protection

Designing humanities trust layer for the digital world

Society is the first decentralized network

If we see humans as nodes that transact with each other and that communicate via gossip then the Scalability Trilemma has been solved tens of thousands of years ago with the rise of the first societies.

Virtual trust in the digital world

Bitcoin and it’s corresponding Proof of Work are creating a game to mimic a similar mechanism in the digital world. A miner that has access to a certain amount of hash power would always be better off to secure the network than to attack it.

  1. The rich keep getting richer.
  2. If the rich ever decide to censor somebody or roll back history then we no longer have the digged holes to convince people of the truth.

1. It is hard to shard

Since the processing capabilities of nodes are limited by their hardware, the only way to reliably scale a DLT is sharding.

2. You exclude a lot of honest actors

If participation as a validator is limited to access to a scarce resource, then you automatically exclude a lot of validators that are simply too poor but otherwise perfectly honest.

3. Economies of scale leads to increasing centralization

Anything that is based on a scarce resource automatically favors actors that have a better or cheaper access to the underlying resource.

4. Game theory does not always hold

Humans are not always rational players (in the context of game theory) which means that there might be situations where they deviate from the expected behavior.

5. The network is attackable from the outside

Since it is possible to acquire the resource that is used as a sybil protection mechanism in secret, a very powerful attacker might be able to break the system if he is willing to spend enough money (i.e. before a war). The network would as a result be rendered completely unusable.

Real trust in the digital world

We have discussed the problems of virtual trust in the digital world, but what about real trust?

Distributed trust as a middleman

DLTs work in a very similar way - they act as a middleman between parties that do not know each other but want to transact. In contrast to AirBNB, we however do not trust a single entity but we trust the protocol and distribute the trust among the validators.

Integrating trust directly into the DLT

So if trust is not limited to the real world then why has nobody ever tried to build a system that uses trust as a sybil protection mechanism?

The first DLT that manages to integrate real world identities and trust in an open and permissionless way as a sybil protection will make all other cryptocurrencies obsolete.

It wouldn’t just be orders of magnitude more decentralized but also orders of magnitude more efficient and secure. Everybody could be a validator even without owning any tokens or expensive hardware.


We have discussed a “new” form of sybil protection that uses trust into real world identities against potential attackers.



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Hans Moog

I am a hacker, feminist, futurist and tech enthusiast working for IOTA and trying to make the world a better place (whatever that means) :P