Sam Altman’s ‘Worldcoin’ Wants to Give You Crypto in Exchange for Eyeball Scans

Sam Altman’s ‘Worldcoin’ Wants to Give You Crypto in Exchange for Eyeball Scans
Photo: Martin Meissner, AP

If you thought cryptocurrency shenanigans ended with Dogecoin and NFTs, you should probably sit down for this one. Sam Altman, the former CEO of famed startup incubator Y Combinator, is reportedly working on a new cryptocurrency that’ll be distributed to everyone on Earth. Once you agree to scan your eyeballs.

Yes, you read correctly.

You can thank Bloomberg for inflicting this cursed news on the rest of us. In its report, Bloomberg says Altman’s forthcoming cryptocurrency and the company behind it, both dubbed Worldcoin, recently raised $US25 ($32) million from investors. The company is purportedly backed by Andreessen Horowitz, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and Day One Ventures.

“I’ve been very interested in things like universal basic income and what’s going to happen to global wealth redistribution and how we can do that better,” Altman told Bloomberg, explaining what fever dream inspired this.

Universal basic income is an economic theory that stipulates every citizen should have a government-provided income regardless of need. While you may associate UBI with the failed political ambitions of Andrew Yang, in the tech world it’s been touted as a strategy to offset job losses spurred by automation. Altman himself has been a vocal proponent of UBI for several years. During his time at Y Combinator, Altman planned to dole out as much as $US60 ($77) million as part of a pilot study to test UBI’s feasibility. Altman also began speaking about the potential relationship between crypto and UBI as early as 2019.

What supposedly makes Worldcoin different is it adds a hardware component to cryptocurrency in a bid to “ensur[e] both humanness and uniqueness of everybody signing up, while maintaining their privacy and the overall transparency of a permissionless blockchain.” Specifically, Bloomberg says the gadget is a portable “silver-coloured spherical gizmo the size of a basketball” that’s used to scan people’s irises. It’s undergoing testing in some cities, and since Worldcoin is not yet ready for distribution, the company is giving volunteers other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin in exchange for participating. There are supposedly fewer than 20 prototypes of this eyeball scanning orb, and currently, each reportedly costs $US5,000 ($6,413) to make.

Supposedly the whole iris scanning thing is “essential” as it would generate a “unique numerical code” for each person, thereby discouraging scammers from signing up multiple times. As for the whole privacy problem, Worldcoin says the scanned image is deleted afterward and the company purportedly plans to be “as transparent as possible.”

Listen, there’s nothing inherently wrong with UBI, or even the need to ensure people don’t abuse a good thing. But, does it have to be done like this? Do we always have to jump to the most cursed solutions first?