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What is Sam Altman’s biometric project?

Worldcoin

Aftab Abbasi

Noted AI entrepreneur Sam Altman, the chief executive of Open AI which built chatbot ChatGPT, has launched a new cryptocurrency project that is described as being “dystopian”. “The Worldcoin protocol is intended to be the world’s largest identity and financial public network, open to everyone regardless of their country, background or economic status,” states its website. The project has been in the works for the last few years and its stated aim is to provide a unique, verified identity for everyone.

Artificial intelligence has taken over much of the financial hype cycle that used to belong to cryptocurrency. Now comes a project that’s trying to combine the two: Worldcoin.
Background
Sam Altman previously introduced the beta version of Worldcoin in October 2021. In December 2022, he launched OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT.
This project captured global attention and Altman has since become a person of note in the booming artificial intelligence industry.
What is Worldcoin?
Worldcoin is an initiative to create a digital network where individuals can claim a stake and join the digital economy.
It’s an effort to create a global network of digital identities for a world in which AI robots become harder to distinguish from humans.
It is a cryptocurrency project that aims to create a new form of digital identity that can verify that its holder is a real human being, not an AI bot or a fake account.
Its main innovation is its World ID, which is generated by scanning a person’s eyes using a device called an orb.
Aims and Objectives
“Our aim is to enable universal access to the global economy. To help do this, we’re working to distribute a new digital token freely to billions of people, including those without a passport or legal identification,” says its website. The reasoning given here is that biometric data would help differentiate between humans and AI systems and prevent duplication of IDs from the same person. It can then be used as an ID in a variety of everyday applications – such as a cryptocurrency wallet – without revealing the user’s identity, Worldcoin claims.
Worldcoin is also the name of the cryptocurrency that’s used to reward people who scan their eyeballs or who support the project.
The Worldcoin Foundation is listed as the steward of the technology, but the organizers say that it has no owners or shareholders and that holders of Worldcoin tokens will have a say in the direction of the project.
Worldcoin is also affiliated with a tech company called Tools for Humanity Corp. that says it was “established to accelerate the transition towards a more just economic system.”
How it works?
The project uses a device called an “orb” — which looks like a Magic 8 Ball but bigger and silver-colored — to scan a person’s iris, which has a unique pattern in every human much as a fingerprint does.
The orb then encrypts the image and sends it to a blockchain network, where it is matched with a Worldcoin address.
That creates a World ID, which grants its holders “proof of personhood” — a way to verify one’s identities on various online services without disclosing one’s name or other personal data.
World ID is a way to create a universal and decentralized digital identity that can protect people’s privacy and enable them to access various services and benefits online.
The project also has a vision of using Worldcoin as a means to distribute universal basic income (UBI) to everyone in the world, regardless of their location, income, or status.
The person who scans his/her eyes receives some Worldcoins as a reward for joining the network.
Concerns
The WorldCoin website says that images collected by the orb are “promptly deleted unless explicitly requested by the person signing up”. It adds that in its place, a message containing a numerical representation of the most important features of the image captured remains, to create a unique individual code. But this has not convinced certain regulators.

  • A German data watchdog has been investigating the project since late last year due to concerns over its large-scale processing of sensitive biometric data.
  • The Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision is holding an investigation under the European Union’s data protection rules because Tools For Humanity has a German subsidiary there.
  • Britain’s data regulator has also said it will make inquiries into the project.
  • France’s privacy watchdog also said that the legality of the project’s biometric data collection “seems questionable”.
  • Kenya’s Office of the Data Protection Commissioner said in a July 28 press release that individuals signing up for it must ensure that they are duly informed about how their sensitive data could be used. It has called for “increased vigilance” for compliance with its data-processing law.

Criticism
Privacy and security: Many people are concerned about the privacy and security implications of giving their biometric data to a third-party entity. They worry that their iris scans could be hacked, leaked or misused by Worldcoin or other actors. They also question how Worldcoin will protect their data from government surveillance or censorship.
Ethics and consent: Some people are uneasy about the ethical and moral implications of incentivizing people to give up their biometric data for money. They argue that Worldcoin could exploit vulnerable populations who may not fully understand or consent to the risks involved. They also point out that Worldcoin could create social pressure or coercion for people to participate in the project.
Regulation and legality: Some people are doubtful about the regulation and legality of Worldcoin in different jurisdictions. They wonder how Worldcoin will comply with existing laws and regulations regarding cryptocurrencies, identity verification, anti-money laundering and consumer protection. They also speculate how governments will react to Worldcoin’s attempt to create a parallel identity and financial system.
Scalability and sustainability: Some people are sceptical about the scalability and sustainability of Worldcoin’s model. They question how Worldcoin will manage the technical and logistical challenges of distributing and operating millions of orbs around the world. They also wonder how Worldcoin will maintain its value and relevance in the long term, especially if more people join the network or if other cryptocurrencies offer similar or better features.
Conclusion
The prospects of Worldcoin depend on several factors, such as its adoption rate, user satisfaction, technical innovation, regulatory compliance, competitive advantage, social impact and ethical standards. The project faces many uncertainties and challenges ahead but also has the potential to create a new paradigm for digital identity and financial inclusion.
The writer is a member of staff.

Muhammad Ali Asghar

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