Is Worldcoin a Ponzi or Do We Need Proof of Humanity?

On The Radar
June 1, 2023
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OpenAI released their ChatGPT platform in November of 2022 and it rapidly took the world by storm. Many a Twitter feed was overloaded with AI threads about its use cases and ways to make it do things that we never thought of as possible before. 

But with this major technological advancement came many concerns, “Will it take my job?” “Will it take over the planet?” “Is Terminator becoming a reality?”

The mastermind behind this technology is Sam Altman (yes, another Sam something-Man to inspire our confidence). Altman was quick to address the concerns his new AI platform created and has now taken a step further to make us all feel at ease about the potential of an AI global take-over.

Introducing Worldcoin

Altman said himself that in as little as 10 years, AI could generate enough income to pay every adult in the US $13,500 per year and believes that this Universal Basic Income could provide us, humans, with the freedom we have craved for so long to pursue our dreams and find the true meanings of life.

His solution? Worldcoin…

The project started with a simple question... “What if there were a way to freely distribute shares of a new digital token to every person on the planet?”

The Worldcoin project quickly raised an impressive $115 million and earned itself a hefty $3 billion valuation while still in beta.

So WTF is Worldcoin?

In its simplest form, Worldcoin is an Ethereum L2 project with the beta version being run on Polygon. However, the full-release version will be built on Optimism and make use of Zero-Knowledge Proof technology. 

The native token $WLD will be distributed to users that create an ID and there are talks of airdrops of other major cryptos like Ethereum and Bitcoin to incentivise sign-ups. Currently over 1.7 million people worldwide have joined the project, most of whom live in developing nations.

In order to sign up, a user must first download the World App Wallet (available on Android & IOS) and then locate their nearest Worldcoin Operator to have their eyeballs scanned by the Worldcoin Orb. This iris scan is done as a way to “prove your personhood” and make sure you are not a cyborg machine sent here to end all humanity and steal the jobs of hard-working individuals.

Once scanned, the iris image is turned into a hash and used to create a World ID. This World ID has been described as a “global digital passport” and will be used to access various applications that provide an assortment of financial products. 

But don’t worry, Worldcoin has said: “We don’t want to know who you are, just that you are unique.” Ahhh, yes. Real peace of mind. 

For more info on the Orb check out this thread below from Worldcoin themselves.

1/ A brief look inside the Orb ⚪️👀🧵 pic.twitter.com/VnM2QGfaaQ

— Worldcoin (@worldcoin) May 18, 2023

So, what are the pros?

As AI technology advances it will become increasingly difficult to know if one is a human or machine. Having a biometric ID will provide a way to prove you are really made of flesh and bone, and current methods of proof-of-personhood like CAPTCHA are a pain and not easily scalable. 

Some reasons why this proof of personhood thing is so important:

  • Better security (Hard to hack biometric tech without stealing someone's eyeballs)
  • Privacy (No more KYC. Instead, just a simple iris scan)
  • Misinformation (Slow the spread of AI-generated misinformation)
  • Sybil attack (Harder to create multiple accounts as iris scans can only be done once)

Worldcoin claims that these images of your iris will be deleted from the database almost instantly unless you choose otherwise and that no data will be sold or shared with others unless they are working with Worldcoin or have a “legitimate purpose for accessing it”.

And now for the cons…

Other than many seeing this as another dystopian nightmare in the making, there are some real concerns about what Altman is doing here. The scalability of the Orb technology is questionable and this could be viewed as simply another attempt at data harvesting. 

It’s worth noting that the fingerprint marketplace is thought to be worth north of $8.5 billion by 2026 so you can only imagine the potential profit to be made by harvesting eyeballs.

https://www.biometricupdate.com/202105/fingerprint-biometric-market-to-reach-8-5b-in-5-years

The fact that data can be shared with parties who have a “legitimate purpose for accessing it” leaves the door open for governments to get a piece of the pie. Talks of potential social credit score systems and other forms of overreach are rife. Even Edward Snowden has made his thoughts clear and shown his lack of support for the project. 

This looks like it produces a global (hash) database of people's iris scans (for "fairness"), and waves away the implications by saying "we deleted the scans!"

Yeah, but you save the *hashes* produced by the scans. Hashes that match *future* scans.

Don't catalogue eyeballs. https://t.co/uAk0NYGeZu

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 23, 2021

OpenAI itself was in fact initially developed and funded by Elon Musk to be an Open sourced public good. That has since changed and is now a for-profit entity which accepted a $10bn investment from everybody's favourite immunologist Bill Gates. So, I’m not entirely sure I believe a lot of the pencilled-in Road Map points here. They could get erased and modified pretty quickly. 

Another concern is that, unlike a password, once biometric data has fallen into the hands of a malicious party it can no longer be changed. There are already black markets for biometric data and one can be sure that hackers are rubbing their hands together at the idea of getting hold of people's eyeballs.

The small monetary incentive also seems to target people in developing nations and despite Worldcoin saying this is not the plan, it can clearly be seen by the map of global sign-ups. Despite the measly 25 $WLD tokens given to users who create an ID, there is no guarantee that these tokens will be worth anything and they could well go to zero.

On top of that, there have been concerns about the signup process and those that are being coerced into giving up information for the promise of wealth and… AirPods?!

This article in MIT Technology Review titled Deception, exploited workers, and cash handouts: How Worldcoin recruited its first half a million test usershad a less than savoury take on the lengths that Worldcoin was going to, to achieve its boastful signup numbers. 

This is an excerpt from the extremely detailed piece:

“The startup promises a fairly-distributed, cryptocurrency-based universal basic income. So far all it's done is build a biometric database from the bodies of the poor”

Conclusion

Worldcoin’s full release is set to happen in the coming weeks (first half of 2023) and the speed of adoption will be the deciding factor of its success or failure. 

Will it fulfil its stated goals and set the human race free of menial daily tasks by providing us with a basic income so that we can pursue our wildest dreams? Or will it become another tool of the ever-increasingly authoritarian elite class to watch over our every move like an all-seeing eye?

Either way, the fact that Altman has built the problem and now provides a solution is a business model only an (evil?) genius could pull off.

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