Should You Let Worldcoin Scan Your Irises?

A group of tech entrepreneurs, including OpenAI founder Sam Altman, is hatching a plan to create unique digital identities for everyone in the world by scanning their irises with high-tech orbs to verify one’s humanity in the age of rampant deepfakes. According to security experts, it’s a tricky proposition.

Worldcoin Orb in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Worldcoin

They’ve been likened to bowling balls conceived by Steve Jobs and mini Jeff Koons sculptures, but the mirrored spheres that have popped up from New York and Paris to São Paulo actually herald the launch of Worldcoin, an ambitious AI initiative to create digital identities called World IDs for the entire population. The grapefruit-sized gizmos, developed by Tools for Humanity and ex-Apple designer Thomas Meyerhoffer, scan one’s irises, converting their biometric image into a one-of-a-kind string of numbers called an IrisCode. When combined with an algorithm, the code verifies one’s humanity via a smartphone app.

Envisioned three years ago by Alex Blania and Sam Altman, the CEO of ChatGPT parent company OpenAI, the plan intends to create “a new identity and financial network connecting billions of people in the age of AI.” Worldcoin is pitching the identities as a secure way to prove one’s personhood in an era of rampant AI deepfakes. More than two million people have opted to scan their irises—a process that involves gazing into the orb’s surface—in the project’s beta phase, which saw 1,500 of the devices built. Volunteers also receive crypto tokens called Worldcoin, which started trading this week and are valued at $2. 

Worldcoin Orb in Miami. Image courtesy of Worldcoin

“Worldcoin is an attempt at global scale alignment,” the founders wrote in a statement. “The journey will be challenging and the outcome is uncertain. But finding new ways to broadly share the coming technological prosperity is a critical challenge of our time.”

Though Worldcoin claims the orb is secure, experts caution against divulging biometric data to third parties. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin penned a lengthy blog post acknowledging the need for proof of personhood and ramped-up security, but called out Worldcoin’s potential shortfalls, including the nightmarish risk of hacks, ID-selling, and 3-D printing fake people. Convincing people that Worldcoin won’t exacerbate such dystopian scenarios will be one of the founders’ biggest uphill battles. Plunging crypto markets and alleged investments by fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried also aren’t doing the project any favors. Noted whistleblower Edward Snowden kept his thoughts fairly concise: “Don’t catalogue eyeballs.”

Worldcoin Orb in Tokyo. Image courtesy of Worldcoin
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