Technology and Trust: Conversations at Stanford University

By November 29, 2018 No Comments

Members of the Hypernet team recently attended an event at Stanford University which focused on the intersection of trust and technology. The event was led by Janine Zacharia, former middle-east correspondent for the Washington Post. Zacharia was accompanied by Dr. Jeffrey Hancock, a researcher who studies lies and deception, and Dr. Sharad Goel, whose background is in software and statistical analysis. While the discussion was highly interdisciplinary, there were great insights regarding the role blockchain could play in society, and how it is a natural evolution of trust-based interactions with technology.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of the “trust-revolution” in technology over the past 20 years. In 2007, when Facebook first became popular, many pundits claimed it would never succeed because people would never allow their personal information to be put online for anybody to see. Now, it seems the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Contemporary social media users do everything they can to attract friends and followers, displaying full trust in the Facebook platform.

With Ebay and Paypal there were similar arguments. In the early days of eCommerce, purchasing an object online with a credit card was perceived as a high-risk activity. At the time, we did not trust those systems or organizations with our personal financial information. Contrast that with Singles Day 2018, when nearly $25 billion dollars of transactions were conducted on the website Alibaba alone.

More recently, societal expectations of trust have adapted in order to accomodate “the sharing economy.” Airbnb and Uber each faced the same criticisms as Facebook and Paypal. Way back in 2010, around when Airbnb was founded, it seemed impossible that normal people would turn their homes into hotels where online strangers could enter and leave as they pleased. And growing up we are all told to never get into a stranger’s car — so how could Uber ever succeed? Thoughts like these seem oddly quaint and absurd today, but that is how most of us thought less than 8 years ago.

Now, we are once again at an inflection point as we learn to trust a new type of technology: blockchain. One of blockchain’s most attractive features is the ability to verify transactions in a trustless manner. However, users must still become comfortable psychologically while using the technology — even if the technology is more secure than the systems we already use every day.

Fortunately, previous technologies built on trust (Facebook, Paypal, Airbnb, Uber, etc…) are great case studies to learn from. Hypernet is already researching how to build a trusted platform, which helps users become comfortable with our technology. This will be an important component of our business strategy for adoption and growth of the network. This, along with our core IP and friendly user interface, will make Hypernet the first choice for peer-to-peer computation.