Crypto s Next Craze
In the evening of last month, a gathering of cryptocurrency enthusiasts convened at an art gallery in downtown Manhattan. The scene was reminiscent of science fiction, with an open bar at one end of the room and a collection of gray pedestals on the opposite side, displaying metallic spheres approximately the size of bowling balls.
This event marked the launch party for Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency project initiated by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, in collaboration with a crypto company he co-founded called Tools for Humanity. With music setting the backdrop, attendees congregated around these shiny spherical orbs, which bore a striking resemblance to a fusion of a giant eight-ball and HAL 9000, the rogue computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Tools for Humanity’s grand vision is nothing short of revolutionary: they aim to scan the irises of all eight billion humans on Earth and employ this unique identifier to provide small cryptocurrency allotments to support individuals in a world being transformed by artificial intelligence.
Each Worldcoin orb is equipped with a camera designed to capture images of a person’s irises. These scans are then converted into numerical code, meant to serve as a novel form of digital ID. In the near term, Tools for Humanity intends to generate revenue by offering its iris-based system as an alternative to security technologies such as CAPTCHA, a photographic test used to distinguish humans from spam accounts.
The long-term vision of Worldcoin’s backers involves using iris IDs as the foundation for a universal basic income, a welfare system where everyone receives guaranteed payments. They argue that iris IDs will be essential to differentiate real people from robots, thereby safeguarding individuals from potential job loss due to AI advancements.
Critics express concerns about entrusting a privately-owned cryptocurrency company with the biometric data of billions of people, invoking fears of a dystopian future reminiscent of the 2002 film “Minority Report.” Nonetheless, Tools for Humanity managed to secure $115 million in funding this year from venture capital investors, despite the cryptocurrency industry facing a downturn in recent times.
Tools for Humanity represents one of many crypto companies trying to capitalize on the hype surrounding AI to revive digital currencies after a period of market crashes and bankruptcies. This project also illustrates how influential figures like Sam Altman are seeking to profit during this tumultuous period by creating ventures to mitigate the negative impacts of AI, even as they actively develop AI technology.
The marketing strategies and iris-scanning methods employed by Tools for Humanity have sparked concerns. In response, authorities in France and Germany announced investigations into Worldcoin’s data collection practices. Additionally, the Kenyan government ordered Tools for Humanity to cease scanning, citing a “lack of clarity” in handling sensitive information.
While the concerns are significant, dozens of crypto enthusiasts seemed unperturbed at Worldcoin’s launch event in Manhattan, where users received small cryptocurrency tokens upon iris scans, albeit not available in the United States due to legal uncertainties surrounding crypto companies.
Worldcoin’s marketing blitz has resulted in over two million sign-ups, although it’s still far from the goal of scanning the irises of all eight billion people on the planet. The company claims the orbs are scanning new irises every eight seconds.
Tools for Humanity was founded in 2019 by Sam Altman and has since gained momentum. It has faced criticism for its marketing strategies and data collection, particularly in developing countries, where contractors known as “orb operators” employed deceptive techniques to solicit sign-ups. Despite its vision of equitably distributed currency, the company has reserved about a quarter of its digital coins for venture investors and insiders.
At the launch event in Manhattan, attendees, clad in “unique human” emblazoned white T-shirts, engaged in discussions about the pros and cons of offering their biometric data to the startup. While some had reservations, the allure of cryptocurrency tokens led many to line up for iris scans. The evening ended with Isaac Cespedes, a software developer, contemplating whether to undergo the scan, eventually joining the queue.
Isaac Cespedes, a software developer in the midst of the bustling event, was deep in thought as he contemplated the implications of offering his biometric data to the startup.
“My crypto trader friend – I just messaged him,” he said. “He thinks it sounds scammy.”
As he stood in line, Isaac pondered the potential consequences of sharing such personal information with Tools for Humanity. The promises of a new digital currency and the allure of joining a community of early adopters were compelling, but the concerns about privacy and data security were undeniably nagging.
However, he couldn’t ignore the intrigue of the moment. The prospect of free cryptocurrency tokens simply for an iris scan was too enticing for many to pass up, despite the looming questions about data privacy, ownership, and security.
This scene at the Canvas 3.0 gallery in Manhattan encapsulated the dichotomy surrounding Worldcoin and its ambitious goals. On one hand, it offered the tantalizing promise of a new, universal form of digital identity and a potential solution to the challenges posed by an increasingly AI-driven world. On the other hand, it raised serious questions about privacy, surveillance, and the ethical implications of a private cryptocurrency company amassing such sensitive biometric data.
Worldcoin’s vision may be audacious, but it aligns with a broader trend in the cryptocurrency and AI landscape, where powerful figures and companies are striving to harness cutting-edge technology for financial gain while addressing the societal disruptions caused by AI advancements.
The journey of Worldcoin, Tools for Humanity, and their unique orbs is far from over. They will continue to face scrutiny, both from regulators and concerned citizens, as they navigate the uncharted territory of biometric data collection, cryptocurrency distribution, and the potential implications for the future of our digital identities.
As Isaac Cespedes approached the orb operator, he couldn’t help but feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation. He was about to take a small step into a world where the boundaries of privacy and technology were being redefined. The lure of free tokens and the promise of a digital future were simply too enticing to resist, even if they came with a touch of uncertainty.
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