Tech Start-Up Wants to Give Everyone on Earth Free Crypto, All It Wants Is to Scan Your Eyes

by Tor Constantino | Published on Nov. 10, 2021

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Person getting their eyes scanned by tech.

Image source: Getty Images

Worldcoin wants to build a base of 1 billion users in two years. Since launching this summer it's already scanned the eyes of 130,000 people


Key points

  • Worldcoin is laying the foundation to launch its own namesake cryptocurrency at scale globally, with the vision of giving an undetermined amount for free to everyone on earth.
  • To do that it has to catalog anyone who wants the crypto freebie by scanning irises of all participants as "proof of personhood" and ensure one payout per person.
  • The founder believes this approach could be a step toward universal basic income. However, a centralized database of users based on bio-identifiers flies in the face of everything crypto represents.

Ealy this summer a cryptocurrency startup by tech wunderkind Sam Altman, called Worldcoin, launched with the plan that it wants to give away free amounts of its namesake coin to build its user base. Seems reasonable, I mean who doesn't like a free cheese sample while shopping at Costco?

Global vision starts with a scan of your irises

Altman wants to give small amounts of the crypto to everyone on the planet who wants it. To bring that vision into focus requires physical eye scans of recipients that will:

  1. Provide "proof of personhood," which is Worldcoin's term of art for identity
  2. Eliminate double-dipping shenanigans from folks trying to syphon more free stuff

In a recent company blog post about how this will work, Worldcoin states that it's recruiting dozens of entrepreneurs to use the eye scanner devices to drive enrollment in the free giveaway. The scanner -- which is cleverly called "Orb" -- looks like a silver basketball with a large piece of black circular glass that's flush with the surface to protect the internal camera. Its minimalist design seems to inspire curiosity and conversation among prospects, making enrollment easier for the operators who earn Worldcoin for the number of successful scans.

Crypto tech as a step toward universal basic income

According to the Worldcoin website, operators have registered 130,000 pairs of eyes and facial images using about 30 devices in 12 countries. At full production capacity, they plan to deploy 4,000 Orbs a month to capture more eyeball scans to achieve Altman's goal of 1 billion users in the system within two years.

Biometric identifiers for crypto is bad in concept and execution

Altman has been an avowed globalist for years hyping the adoption of a universal basic income (UBI) in several media interviews. He sees Worldcoin as an enabling technological advance that could make global UBI real for billions of people.

Despite this seemingly-unifying Utopian vision, in reality there are serious flaws with it.

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  • It's not free. Participants exchange their lifelong identity for an indeterminate amount of digital money. That's a bad deal for anybody.
  • Worldcoin repeatedly states on its website that the eye scan is completely voluntary and would only apply to individuals who want a free stash of crypto. Ok, how does that jive with Altman's stated desire to use Worldcoin as an on-ramp to a UBI-based dystopia?
  • The Worldcoin website posts over and over that it will delete all stored images once the iris and facial scans are encrypted into an alphanumeric code. But it doesn't give timelines or any way to confirm images have been deleted -- that's a major red flag.
  • Lastly, the whole idea of creating a centralized database of users flies in the face of the crypto ethos and its founding principles. Crypto was conceived to end centralized control of finances, banking, and earning potential -- not enable its worst use case as UBI.

Despite growing backlash from privacy advocates such as Edward Snowden, this project continues to advance. We shouldn't turn a blind eye to these types of projects, but rather watch closely -- while keeping our irises to ourselves.

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