Science

Cryptocurrencies for scanning the iris of the eye: the controversial Worldcoin project

You probably don’t know Sam Altman. This 37-year-old tech entrepreneur is less well-known than Elon Musk or Jack Dorsey, but he certainly also helps shape the world we live in. The former head of the world’s most famous startup incubator, Y Combinator, launched OpenAI in 2016, one of the top AI research labs that regularly releases extremely powerful pre-trained models such as GPT-3 for free. . Suffice it to say that the launch of his Worldcoin project in 2020 with Alex Blania attracted attention.

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

When this happens, prices will also tend to zero as the cost of producing everything tends to be free. Then it will be necessary to organize the taxation of capital, allowing the transfer of value from companies to people. Responsibility for these deductions and redistributions can be assumed by states or, why not, by a decentralized transnational organization managed by its beneficiaries themselves. This is the whole idea of ​​Tools For Humanity, which wants to distribute its 10 billion Worldcoin tokens to all of humanity, in the hope that this cryptocurrency will become the standard for payment and, perhaps, tomorrow, the backbone of the world. .

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The first stage of this titanic project is to control the identity of these billions of individuals in order to prevent them from repeatedly benefiting from the planned redistribution. The company, which will have two billion users by 2023, has developed its own Orb iris recorder, which it has shipped to several hundred paying collectors in 24 countries (mostly developing countries).

Dream of quick wins

These groups of collectors, in exchange for a few units of local currency and Worldcoin tokens, collected the irises and personal details of almost 450,000 people. And this campaign has not failed to generate much controversy, both due to concerns about the commercial use of this biometric data, and because of the risks of leaking or hacking this 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. The survey showed that many, lured only by quick profits, have already resold their tokens.

It is interesting to draw a parallel with the Unique Identity of India (UIDAI) initiative, a project carried out by private entrepreneurs in 2009 and then taken over by the state, which made it possible to issue a biometric passport to every 1.4 billion citizens of India. Except that this initiative came from the Indian state itself, and it took a decade to achieve the goal. It cost between $10 and $12 billion 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 short on resources. Last month, the company announced $100 million in funding at a $3 billion valuation. The investments came from some of the world’s most famous private equity funds: Khosla Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. Of the ten billion Worldcoin tokens, 10% is allocated to these investors and 10% to Tools For Humanity staff members. The arrival of these investors calls into question the disinterested nature of the project. In order to generate the resources needed to complete it, the project will inevitably have a commercial component, with an animation of an ecosystem of merchants accepting its currency.

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