Worldcoin is one of the most audacious projects in recent memory—a company directly out of a sci-fi movie, with a promise to gift individuals crypto tokens if they scan their eyeballs using a futuristic orb. Those scans can be used to prove people’s “humanness,” as the project describes it: a valuable asset in a society increasingly dominated by artificial intelligence.
After three years of trials, with headlines fixating on Worldcoin’s ambitious hopes, fatal flaws, and straight-up weirdness, the token—also named Worldcoin—is launching on Monday through an airdrop to users who have been verified through an orb. Other users can secure their tokens by downloading the company’s app until they get access to an orb, including for future airdrops, although the token distribution will be limited to certain countries. Users in the U.S., for example, are not eligible to receive the tokens amid regulatory uncertainty.
Worldcoin was founded in 2020 by Sam Altman, now known for his work with the ChatGPT developer OpenAI, and Max Novendstern, who is now working on a separate A.I.-focused investment project. The main player currently behind Worldcoin is Alex Blania, a former Ph.D. student in theoretical physics who now serves as the CEO of Tools for Humanity, the parent organization developing Worldcoin until it achieves its goal of full decentralization.
Worldcoin’s early days focused on its crypto token. By verifying “personhood” through an eye scan on its proprietary orb, users would receive the as-of-yet-launched Worldcoin tokens as rewards. The idea was that Worldcoin could create a system where every global individual would be onboarded into a financial distribution model where the token could become a central form of currency and be distributed through “universal basic income” programs.
The company’s first couple of years were defined by obstacles, which Blania attributed to standard beta testing. Media coverage highlighted the project’s slipshod way of using contractors to capture people’s iris data with its orbs, as well as privacy law violations and allegations of corruption. Worldcoin, meanwhile, insisted that it was creating a special protocol that safeguarded people’s biometric data through a complicated model of cryptographic techniques.
As part of the token launch, Worldcoin has migrated its protocol to the Optimism mainnet, a layer-2 blockchain built on Ethereum. Tools for Humanity is also releasing a Worldcoin white paper.
‘An entirely different world’
After the November launch of ChatGPT and growing public awareness of generative A.I.—and the potential threats to employment and online identity—Worldcoin began emphasizing its “proof of personhood” system as uniquely capable of countering those concerns. Tools for Humanity developed a software development kit, or SDK, where other apps could use people’s World ID—generated after they are verified by an orb—in lieu of other login credentials, like emails and passwords. Blania and his team of engineers said Worldcoin’s protocol of iris scans was the only universal way to create a global identity verification system, with the token serving as an incentive mechanism to acquire users.
With the launch of the token, Worldcoin enters a new phase. Currently, only around 150 orbs are operational, and just 2 million people have signed up to the platform—a far cry from the hundreds of millions, or billions, that Worldcoin needs to create meaningful network effects. In an interview with The Washington City Times, Blania said Worldcoin hopes to have 1,500 orbs operational by the end of the year, as well as expand to new markets, with the launch of the token likely driving more interest for sign-ups.
“General interest is probably going to be two orders of magnitude higher than it is now,” he said. “There’s going to be a defined value attached to it—it’s just going to be an entirely different world that I think none of us can actually predict.”
The immediate impact of the token launch is unclear. Worldcoin is not launching its token directly on exchanges like Coinbase or Uniswap, instead airdropping it to users, who will be able to transact with it through crypto wallets. A person familiar with the matter told The Washington City Times in March that around 70% of overall tokens will go to registrants, with the rest going to insiders such as Tools for Humanity employees and the firm’s investors.
But exchanges inevitably will begin to list it, which will create a fiat-driven market, meaning Worldcoin will have a real-world value. While this could create potential fraud issues for Worldcoin, such as already documented instances of people selling their credentials so that others could receive their airdropped tokens, Blania said that Worldcoin is developing ways for people to recover and reauthenticate their credentials.
“Every identity system has frauds,” he told The Washington City Times. “It’s not an actual concern for the system itself.”