What Is Worldcoin? Here’s What To Know About The Eyeball-Scanning Crypto Project Launched By OpenAI’s Sam Altman

Worldcoin, the ambitious cryptocurrency and digital ID project spearheaded by OpenAI chief Sam Altman, launched on Monday after years in development, promising to verify users’ identity by scanning their eyes and potentially solving one of the more pressing problems posed by recent advances in artificial intelligence that have made it harder to tell whether something was made by humans or an algorithm.

KEY FACTS

  • At the heart of the Worldcoin project is an eye-scanning “orb,” which must be used in-person and gives users a unique digital identity to verify they are a real human and not a bot.
  • A cryptocurrency—which can be used once a user has verified their identity and is also named Worldcoin—and an app that allows users to make payments, purchase and transfers with it, as well as other digital assets, are also key parts of the project.
  • After collecting more than 2 million users during a beta period, Worldcoin on Monday said it is now going to ramp up its eyeball-scanning operations to 35 cities across 20 countries.
  • The Worldcoin cryptocurrency token has also been issued to eligible people taking part in the beta and is now tradable, the project said.
  • Several exchanges have now listed the token or stated their intention to do so, including Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume.
  • Alex Blania, who cofounded Worldcoin with Altman, said the need to prove a person is real is “no longer a topic of serious debate” in the age of AI, adding that Worldcoin hopes to build a “privacy-first, decentralized and maximally inclusive” way of addressing this problem.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

The Worldcoin cryptocurrency is not currently available in the U.S., the Financial Times reported. It’s not clear when, or if, this will change, and comes amid a broader push by U.S. regulators to crack down on digital assets amid growing concerns it helps facilitate fraud and speculation. Altman told the FT the “U.S. does not make or break a project like this,” though he did say the group did not anticipate the project would become a “world minus the U.S. coin.”

TANGENT

Since its informal launch several years ago, the Worldcoin project has had its fair share of critics. Key concerns revolve around the use of biometric data—the eye scans—to verify users’ identity, particularly the privacy risks involved with collecting, storing and using such data. To some, the fact that the project incentivized early users to sign up in exchange for some of the cryptocurrency functioned as an outlandish bribe. Given that a key use of the blockchain, the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies and other distributed networks, is to obscure one’s identity, others disagree with the very premise of Worldcoin being used to identify people in such a personal and precise manner.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Altman said he hopes to get 2 billion users signed up to Worldcoin now the platform has formally launched. It’s unclear how quickly the company will be able to scale, particularly given the need for in-person appointments. Worldcoin’s website says it is actively onboarding orb operators in additional locations and that 2,000 orbs have been manufactured.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

Altman said a project like Worldcoin “feels especially important in the AI era” when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the work of humans and machines apart. “Like any really ambitious project, maybe it works out and maybe it doesn’t, but trying stuff like this is how progress happens,” Altman said. “In either case, we especially love our haters, it gives us energy, please keep it coming!

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