Sam Altman launches his eyeball-scanning crypto project

24 Jul 2023

Sam Altman speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2015. Image: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch (CC BY 2.0)

Worldcoin lets users scan their eyes to get a unique digital identity, which the project claims could tackle issues around AI-generated content.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has launched Worldcoin, an ambitious project to create a global identity and financial network that is “owned by everyone”.

The project – co-founded by Altman and Alex Blania – is working to create a World ID, which Worldcoin describes as a “privacy-preserving digital identity”. This involves using a biometric verification device called Orb, which scans the user’s eye to confirm their identity.

The project also includes a cryptocurrency called WLD, which is the financial side of the project’s blockchain network. In a whitepaper, Worldcoin potential applications include a future where the world is “financially connected” and people can make near-instant payments.

Worldcoin also claims to be a way to distinguish content created by AI bots, as future messages and transactions from real people could be shown as coming from a “verified human”.

“If successful, we believe Worldcoin could drastically increase economic opportunity, scale a reliable solution for distinguishing humans from AI online while preserving privacy, enable global democratic processes and eventually show a potential path to AI-funded UBI [universal-basic-income],” Altman and Blania said.

The project has been in development for the past three years and gathered roughly two million users during a beta period, TechCrunch reports. The official launch gives people the ability to download the World App and visit one of the Orbs for biometric identification. The project aims to scale up to 20 countries and have Orbs available in 35 cities.

The launch is receiving some support from the crypto sector, as Binance listed the WLD token on its exchange today (24 July).

“Worldcoin is an attempt at global scale alignment, the journey will be challenging and the outcome is uncertain,” Altman and Blania said. “But finding new ways to broadly share the coming technological prosperity is a critical challenge of our time.”

The project has suffered from some controversy however. A report last year claimed Worldcoin was using exploitative practices to build its biometric database in poorer countries.

Meanwhile, Altman’s OpenAI is facing growing pressure in the form of copyright lawsuits, increased competition and regulatory scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic. Earlier this month, the US Federal Trade Commission opened an in-depth investigation into the company to determine how it addresses risks to consumers through AI.

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Sam Altman speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2015. Image: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic