May 25, 2023 - 5 min read
Worldcoin verifies human beings with iris-scanning orbs, and secures biometric data of users with zero-knowledge proofs.
Web3 is arguably one of the most promising industries poised for explosive growth in the coming decades. Combined with artificial intelligence, the compounding effects of changes to the human experience is the equivalent of civilizational whiplash. That is, the steady march forward has become a stampede towards reaching the singularity with AI.
One of those leading the charge is Sam Altman, an American entrepreneur and programmer best known for his roles at Y Combinator and more recently, OpenAI. He also co-founded Worldcoin as a side gig, with its primary aim being to create a more equitable global financial system.
It aims to do this by authenticating humans via eye-scanning technology, importing it to a digital ID system powered by zero-knowledge proofs, and then using this network for distributing tokens, social welfare benefits, and other asset-distribution events. Readers may already be able to guess where this is going. In this article, we’ll delve into the technology underpinning Worldcoin, the Orb, some of its purported aims, and consider the concerns regarding its biometric ID system.
First, understand that there is no whitepaper released at this point. However, Worldcoin aims to establish a more equitable global financial system via the implementation of human verification and an accompanying ID system which will allow for the direct distribution of airdrops, and down the line – things like universal basic income (UBI). Such a system could never become reality if one person could employ thousands of bots to take all the benefits intended to be evenly dispersed.
Essentially, Worldcoin incorporates a biometric ID system to verify humanity so that bots and fakers can be excluded from airdrop campaigns. This can later be bootstrapped for other use cases which might otherwise draw out fraudsters looking to collect more than their fair share. This might include initiatives like social welfare programs, emergency relief payments, pension payments, and so on.
As with other DeFi protocols, Worldcoin utilizes a blockchain and smart contracts to facilitate secure and transparent P2P transactions. What sets Worldcoin apart is its Orb, which employs eye-scanning technology to verify the “proof of humanity” of users. Let’s discuss this hardware device in the subsequent section.
The Orb is a compact, round device which registers new users and authenticates their identity using a scan of the individual’s iris. This biometric data is subsequently converted into distinct identifiers which are then tied to unique Worldcoin wallets.
Worldcoin’s outreach looks to be centered around the distribution of physical Orb devices worldwide, scanning their eyes, and airdropping Worldcoin (WLD) tokens to them accordingly. The recruitment of more verified users incentivizes participants to spread the word and grow the community.
Once the community passes a critical threshold, social welfare and even UBI programs can be bootstrapped using the existing user base and infrastructure. This will facilitate equitable access to distribution events, and allow organizers to properly allocate resources without fear that they’ll be disrupted or misappropriated due to a brute force bot attack or similar scam.
Worldcoin’s recently released wallet named World App runs on the Polygon network, allowing users to transact using USDC, DAI, ETH, WLD, and Wrapped Bitcoin (WBTC). World App uses what’s called the “World ID” system to differentiate between humans and bots. Next, users KYC to acquire a World ID by supplying personal information and a scan of their eyes.
Worldcoin devs claim that user data is completely safe due to a variety of encryption mechanisms. For instance, Worldcoin generates a zero-knowledge proof during the human-verification process, but without revealing the data used to generate the proof. Users who don’t have a World ID can still use World App, but they can’t take advantage of the zero-gas transactions enjoyed by those who have scanned their eyes and KYC’ed.
Despite the potential benefits, Worldcoin’s biometric ID system raises several privacy concerns. First, the collection and storage of biometric data could result in privacy breaches and misuse of personal information. Of course, encryption and zero-knowledge proofs are meant to mitigate this, but comprehending such security parameters is rather arcane and may prove a difficult sell for those with skeptical predispositions.
Furthermore, Worldcoin’s reliance on biometric IDs will surely exclude individuals that are weary of handing over their biometric data. On the other hand, offering free tokens will likely tempt a lot of people into participating anyway. Nevertheless, there will still be people unwilling to provide their biometric data unless compelled to do so. Finally, getting a physical Orb device into every county, township, city, and village is a task which will take years to roll out and work out the nuances of Worldcoin’s underlying infrastructure.
Worldcoin is undoubtedly offering an ambitious solution to global financial inequality by merging biometric IDs with blockchain technology. While the project has the potential to enhance financial inclusion and provide a form of UBI, legitimate concerns surrounding privacy, exclusion, and technological challenges will persist. For now, we expect the project to operate under the radar so as not to draw too much attention and criticism.
As Worldcoin evolves and grows, it is essential for the project to address privacy issues via education and transparency to ensure that users know how their data is protected. Worldcoin must remain a non-state entity and continuously prove its commitment to remain so if it is to gain worldwide credibility, putting the world in “Worldcoin.” Otherwise there will remain a segment of the population which will avoid it until the smoke of dystopian ambiguity clears.
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