Building communities on cooperation and mistrust

A key theme in our society is how to build communities that can distrust each other but still cooperate. This has never been possible and currently still doesn’t exist. To achieve this will require new inventions and resulting social and economic change amplifying each other. Conflict has centered on trust or specifically the lack thereof. The compounded economic drag of mistrust is too hard to measure but probably unprecedented. The social and cultural destruction is immeasurable.

Conventionally, cooperation requires trust. Often, conflict arises when one party is likely to be untrustworthy. World War II played a part in the formation of game theory. Trust was initially misplaced in Hitler’s Germany then mistrust was amplified ultimately leading to a binary outcome: win or lose. If frameworks were in place to inhibit these types of societal viruses, massive amounts of suffering could have been prevented. Current game theory frameworks (i.e. prisoner’s dilemma, assurance games) cannot model games where parties reliably trust each other with uncertainty. Without reliable approaches, periods of high mistrust and conflict may be inevitable. Biological organisms have the power to create robust ecosystems where cooperation at group levels (i.e. >1) can be achieved combined with selection against both groups and individuals. Society really does not have this nor had it.

The modern approach to induce cooperate seems to be through global homogeny — a trustworthy hegemony can promote. cooperation. Creating communities with one class does solve cooperation but makes the group unstable. In this age, technology needs to be designed to create communities/business models that gain from diversity. Communities with many classes have a high probability of not trusting each conferring stability (mainly through selection) but reducing growth. How can communities/business models gain from diversity?

Technology enabling permissionless, low-to-no trust, no censorship, and private applications is a prerequisite to build cooperative but mistrustful communities. Cryptocurrencies help bring this to fruition. For groups to cooperate, costly signaling is required. Moreover, the lack of verifiable information can prevent cooperative behavior.Proof-of-work or other consensus mechanisms play a role for both of these. However, other modalities (i.e. community bio, algorithmic fairness) are also required. A way to bring this integrative future, the dialectic of cooperation and mistrust, is to promote invention for breakthrough and new business models for scaling. We have a society with low levels of trust and non-maximal cooperation.

As a result, inventors, businesses, and individuals in general will create products and technologies that enable trustless cooperation. These include growing use cases in open finance, enabling private marketplaces, and providing increasingly powerful tools to individuals for creation (i.e. CRISPR, TensorFlow/Torch, ILP/IBC). In particular, Hobbes created a valuable model of trust and cooperation to study centered around anarchy. In Leviathan, in short, he argues that the best way to ensure security is to go offensive: “there is no power able to over-awe them all.” This form of realism can be implemented in different ways: direct (i.e. totally mistrust), indirect (i.e. tit-for-tat), Bayesian (i.e. observation of external actions). Inventions and models that promote this type of behavior while still maintaining cooperation is imperative. This has never been accomplished before. The networks have not been in place and the tools still need to get powerful enough. Human nature (i.e. seven deadly sins) will likely stay in place for some time due to evolutionary lock-in. As a result, communities made redundant to this nature can allow for trustless cooperation.

Special thanks to David Kong, Jon Allen as well as others kind enough to review and provide feedback on this piece.

Written on January 6, 2019