The Network of Trust

cover
credit

The way collaboration is done is the way real security is done, by a network of trust. If you have ever done any security work and it did not involve the concept of network of trust, it wasn’t security work. It was masturbation.

This quote is Linus Torvards’ answer in the middle of the funny one-hour discussion at Google. In 2007, he presented the collaboration tool “Git”, a parallel project he had created to achieve a larger enterprise: the Linux kernel, one of the largest open source projects ever considered. In addition to the provocative attitude, the mind-blowing side of what he calls “the network of trust” explains a lot about our interpretation of reality. Note that the following quotes have been simplified, the complete and original presentation has been recorded and is available here.

Reduce your network

I don’t trust everybody. In fact, I am a very cynical and untrusting person. I think most of you are completely incompetent. The whole point of the project having a distributed collaborative system is I don’t have to trust you. I don’t have to give you access to modify it. But I know that among the multitude of average people, there are some people that just stand out, that I trust because I’ve been working with them. I only need to trust 5, 10, 15 people. If I have a network of trust that covers those 5, 10, 15 people that are outstanding and I know they’re outstanding, I can integrate the new features they developed to the project.

Just as you can’t trust everyone’s work, you can’t trust everyone’s opinion. Everyone lives in their own reality. This vast amount only creates too many perspectives for understanding. By reducing the number of people we trust, we avoid being overwhelmed or polluted.

Delegate your reality

I don’t have to spend a lot of brain power on the question. When Andrew sends me patches […], he does it by sending me a million patches. I just add them to the project. Sometimes I disagree with some of these patches, but at some point, trust means you have to accept other people’s decisions.

Every opinion or statement you face during the day cannot be verified. It would require for each of them a detailed analysis which can’t be affordable (time or energy speaking). Also, to keep digesting more and more information or to maintain a reasonable speed of decisions, delegation becomes necessary.

But when it comes to delegating what you know, it means that you are delegating the perception of your reality. In other words, what you believe to be true, false, good, bad, etc., is not the result of a single individual analysis of a subject, but rather the balance between what you believe to be true (“Gravity seems to exist based on what I experience while hiking.”) and who I trust (“Newton seems to be a pretty solid guy”).

Trust means you have to accept the reality of others. This is an important thing. But assessing a person’s credibility is a very personal process, which is usually done irrationally/unintentionally. We tend to trust:

  • people we love (parents, lovers, friends);
  • charismatic people (politicians, superiors);
  • authority figures (people with a degree from a reputable university).

Scale

The nice thing about trust is it does network, that’s where the network of trust comes in. I only need to trust a few people that much. They have other people, they have determined to be smart. That’s actually a really good measure of who you should take the work from. If you have determined that somebody else is smarter than you, go for it. You can’t lose, right? Even if it turns out you integrated crap and somebody else starts complaining, you know who you took the work from and you can just point to the other person and say “hey, I just integrated his work. Go to him, he knows what he’s doing”.

The trust network scales the speed of reality interpretation. But this speed depends very much on our ability to judge someone else’s credibility. You must be aware of the risk of trusting the wrong people. I’ve always been curious about how people could end up believing in a flat hearth. For a long time I thought they were living on another planet. After this talk, I believe there are living in another network of trust.