OpenAI’s Sam Altman raises $115M for Worldcoin, a startup that scans people’s eyes in exchange for free cryptocurrency
OpenAI founder and CEO Sam Altman has raised $115 million in a Series C funding round for Worldcoin, a startup he co-founded with theoretical physics student Alex Blania and Max Novendstern, a former investment associate at Bridgewater Associates. The round was led by Blockchain Capital.
The news comes less than two years after Worldcoin emerged from stealth 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.
Worldcoin said it aims to distribute a crypto token to people “just for being a unique individual.” Worldcoin has faced criticism from privacy groups after revealing that it uses metallic orb devices to scan irises to confirm people’s identity in exchange for free crypto tokens.
In response to Altman’s tweet introducing the project in 2021, former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden tweeted, “Don’t catalogue eyeballs.” The company describes the new cryptocurrency as “a new, collectively owned global currency that will be distributed fairly to as many people as possible.”
We first covered Worldcoin back in 2021 after the controversial startup announced it planned to scan the eyes of every person on Earth in exchange for a free cryptocurrency. Worldcoin said at the time that 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.
How does it work?
Prospective users of 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 Worldcoin’s orb.