This startup wants to scan the eyes of every person on Earth in exchange for a free cryptocurrency; 100,000 people already signed up
The world is never short of great and impactful ideas. However, once in a while technology startups come up with strange ideas that sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. One of those outlandish ideas is a metallic orb developed by Worldcoin, a startup that scans people’s eyes in exchange for free cryptocurrency.
Co-founded by tech millionaire Sam Altman, Worldcoin emerged from stealth last Thursday with $25 million in funding backed by Silicon Valley heavyweights including Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase, and billionaire LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, valuing the crypto startup at a $1 billion valuation. The company describes the new cryptocurrency as “a new, collectively owned global currency that will be distributed fairly to as many people as possible.”
So far, Worldcoin said over 100,000 users have already signed up globally and shipped its orb-shaped devices to people in 12 countries. The company said it aims to hit the 1 billion user milestone by 2023. The Orb is a secure custom hardware device that captures the image of the user’s eyes to determine whether the user is real and whether they have claimed their free share yet.
Altman, who is also the CEO of artificial intelligence group OpenAI and former president of start-up accelerator Y Combinator, co-founded Worldcoin with theoretical physics student Alex Blania and Max Novendstern, a former investment associate at Bridgewater Associates.
We wrote about Altman in 2019 after Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI, the startup he co-founded with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. OpenIA aims to “freely collaborate” with other institutions and researchers by making its patents and research open to the public. Both founders are motivated in part by concerns about existential risk from artificial general intelligence.
How does it work?
Prospective users for the orb-shaped devices sign up by having their iris scanned, which will be operated by independent entrepreneurs around the globe. The image of the scanned eye is later converted into a numeric code, which means that the original image does not need to be stored or uploaded. The numeric code is also not linked to the user’s wallet or transactions, further preserving user privacy.
Worldcoin said the scanned image is encrypted and later stored as a unique code and the original scanned eye image data is deleted to protect users’ privacy. Following that, users are then given a free share of Worldcoin’s cryptocurrency. Unlike the practices of many centralized services used by most people today, Worldcoin said that no other personal information is required. Currently, no one has access to Worldcoin’s source code to confirm the scanned images are indeed deleted.
“We designed the whole system to be fundamentally privacy-preserving,” Blania said. “The iris code itself is the only thing leaving the orb. There’s no big database of biometric data.”
Which raises the question — how exactly is the image meant to be used and what’s in it for Worldcoin? In a statement, Worldcoin said the idea is to use cryptocurrencies to “make it possible to distribute ownership and control of those networks to their users, rather than a single entity.”
In addition, one of the early use cases of the project is a digital wallet that lets users store their crypto and make payments. However, on a broader level, Blania hopes to attract developers who can build apps on top of its system; apps “that we don’t see today and that are really hard to build today because very few people hold crypto.”
“Network effects are these very coveted things that are incredibly big,” Blania said.
“Nothing like this has ever been done before and the outcome is uncertain,” Worldcoin said in a statement on its website. “But we are obsessed with the idea that technology can let us do something collectively that even governments have not been able to: increase individual empowerment and equality of opportunity on a global scale,” the company added.
Below is a video of CoinDesk’s panel discussing the Worldcoin’s orb.