What on Earth is Worldcoin?

Would you let a company scan your eyeball in exchange for some digital tokens? OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is betting that your answer will be: “Yes, absolutely, where do I sign?!”

Driving the news: Altman is expected to launch a new cryptocurrency, Worldcoin, in the coming weeks, and has reportedly secured US$100 million in funding to kick off the project. The project has flown under the radar given Altman’s higher-profile AI work, but several big names in the crypto space are backing the project, including Andreessen Horowitz.

What is Worldcoin, you ask? 

The core of it is an “orb” that uses “iris biometrics” to establish your identity. Users will scan their eyes and receive a “World ID” that they can use to access various services. Worldcoin claims its ID system will let people verify their human-ness “while remaining anonymous,” which Altman has said will become increasingly important as AI becomes more human-like.

  • People with a World ID will also get free Worldcoin tokens, the company’s cryptocurrency. It’s not clear what value, if any, the tokens will have, but Altman has said they could one day be used to establish a universal basic income.

Why it matters: The crypto world is no stranger to utopian-minded missions that end in tears, and Worldcoin could be another such case. But. With OpenAI’s newfound success, Altman now has a track record of proving skeptics (read: the haters) wrong. Treating Worldcoin like another fly-by-night crypto operation would be a mistake. 

  • Worldcoin’s ability to raise serious money in a deep, dark crypto winter is a testament to the confidence investors have in Altman.

Yes, but: There’s still reason to be skeptical of crypto projects making big promises, especially when they require people to trust them with something as sensitive as their biometric data.—TS