Sam Altman, the AI entrepreneur behind OpenAI and the mastermind behind ChatGPT, has unveiled an ambitious and controversial cryptocurrency project called Worldcoin. Worldcoin is owned by a parent company called Tools for Humanity which wants to bring blockchain-based digital identity tools to everyone.
The unique initiative offers people digital coins in exchange for a scan of their irises. The project aims to distinguish humans from AI online while ensuring privacy and potentially paving the way for an “AI-funded” universal basic income.
The Worldcoin project has already attracted significant attention during its beta period, amassing over 2 million users. With its full launch, “orbing” operations have expanded to 35 cities in 20 countries, with participants in certain countries receiving Worldcoin’s cryptocurrency token, WLD, as an enticing incentive. Notably, the company has seen most sign-ups in Europe, India, and southern Africa. However, regulatory concerns have led to the exclusion of US citizens from participating in the project.
The heart of the project is the mysterious orb, a shiny device about the size of a large grapefruit. Collaborating with a top Apple designer, Worldcoin has already crafted around 1,500 orbs and plans to create more. The purpose of these orbs is to scan and record users’ irises, converting the data into an encrypted string of numbers known as an “IrisCode.” When combined with an algorithm, this code verifies the individual’s unique identity, subsequently confirmed through a dedicated app on their phone.
While Worldcoin has generated excitement and interest in the cryptocurrency community, it has not been without controversy. Reports have surfaced criticising the tactics used by the orb operators, particularly in poorer nations, where some have raised concerns about privacy and the security of the gathered iris data. Despite Worldcoin’s claims that no data is stored, privacy experts remain wary.
Notable figures in the cryptocurrency world, such as Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, have expressed both enthusiasm and caution about the project. Buterin acknowledged the potential privacy protections provided by specialised hardware systems but also highlighted concerns regarding Worldcoin’s growing influence and the challenge of garnering global acceptance.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey described the project’s mission as “cute” but added a dystopian warning: “Visit the Orb or the Orb will visit you…”
Nonetheless, Sam Altman embraced criticism, viewing it as an opportunity for improvement. He acknowledged that the project is ambitious and that its success is uncertain, but he believes in taking bold steps to drive progress.
With the launch of the Worldcoin token, its value surged in early trading on major exchanges such as Binance, peaking at $5.29 before stabilising at $2.49, starting from an initial price of $0.15. The company’s vision however extends beyond mere cryptocurrency trading. As noted, it envisions a future in which iris scans become an integral part of various identity verification services and could play a role in implementing a futuristic universal basic income scheme.
To participate in the Worldcoin project, users can sign up at designated locations in 35 cities worldwide. The company is also conducting a tour with pop-up sites to reach more users. After undergoing the iris scan, participants receive WLD tokens as part of an “airdrop,” directly sent to their wallets rather than being listed on an exchange.
As Worldcoin continues to expand its orbing operations worldwide and aims to overcome regulatory challenges, its vision of transforming identity verification and empowering people through a potential universal basic income remains intriguing. Despite uncertainties, Worldcoin’s vision for a futuristic universal basic income and secure identity verification holds the promise of reshaping how we interact with cryptocurrencies and technology at large.
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