Cryptos for an iris scan: the controversial Worldcoin project

You probably don’t know Sam Altman. This 37-year-old tech entrepreneur is less famous than Elon Musk or Jack Dorsey, but he certainly also helps shape the world we live in. Former leader of the most famous start-up incubator in the world, Y Combinator, in 2016 he launched OpenAI, one of the best artificial intelligence research laboratories, which regularly releases extremely powerful pre-trained models such as GPT-3 in free access. . Suffice to say that the launch of his “Worldcoin” project in 2020, with Alex Blania, attracted attention.

Their company Tools For Humanity is on a mission to solve the thorny issue of universal income, in other words to organize the direct redistribution of wealth to individuals, outside the control of nation states, using the decentralized infrastructure of the blockchain. Sam Altman belongs to the post-scarcity school of thought, post-scarcity. The idea is that in the near future, artificial intelligence and robotics will have reduced the cost of labor for most goods and services to zero, leading to the rapid disappearance of human labor.

As this happens, prices will also tend towards zero, as the cost of producing everything will tend towards free. It will then be necessary to organize the taxation of capital allowing a transfer of value from companies to people. These deduction and redistribution operations could be the responsibility of the States or, why not, of a decentralized transnational organization piloted by its beneficiaries themselves. This is the whole idea of ​​the company Tools For Humanity, which wants to distribute its 10 billion Worldcoin tokens to all of humanity, in the hope that this cryptocurrency will become a reference for payment and perhaps, tomorrow, the backbone of a world.

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The first stage of this titanic project consists in controlling the identity of these billions of individuals in order to prevent them from benefiting several times from the planned redistribution. The company, which is targeting two billion users by 2023, has developed its own iris recorder, the Orb, which it has shipped to a few hundred paid collectors in 24 countries around the world ( mostly developing countries).

The dream of quick wins

These teams of collectors, in exchange for a few units of local currency and Worldcoin tokens, collected the iris and personal data of nearly 450,000 people. And this campaign did not fail to arouse multiple controversies, both on the fear of a commercial use of these biometric data and on the risks of leakage or hacking of these data. The question of the success of the operation remains unanswered. People who donated their iris received $20-25, including $5 worth of Worldcoin tokens. A survey showed that many, lured only by a quick gain, have already resold their tokens.

It is interesting to see the parallel with the “Unique ID Authority of India” (UIDAI) initiative, a project carried out by private entrepreneurs in 2009, then taken over by the State, which made it possible to give a biometric passport to each of the 1 .4 billion Indian citizens. Except that this initiative was driven by the Indian state itself, and it took a decade to achieve its goal. It cost between 10 and 12 billion dollars and required the mobilization of armies of Indian students responsible for collecting fingerprints and irises in their spare time.


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Tools For Humanity is certainly not lacking in resources. Last month, it announced $100 million in funding at a $3 billion valuation. Investments came from some of the world’s best-known private equity funds: Khosla Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. Of the ten billion Worldcoin tokens, 10% is allocated to these investors, and 10% to the full-time employees of Tools For Humanity. The arrival of these investors questions the disinterested nature of the project. To generate the resources necessary for its completion, the project will inevitably have a commercial component, with the animation of an ecosystem of merchants accepting its currency.


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Cryptos for an iris scan: the controversial Worldcoin project


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