Worldcoin emerged from stealth on Thursday after raising $25 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase Ventures, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and others. The company most recently raised funds at a $1 billion valuation. It was co-founded by Sam Altman, who led Y Combinator and co-founded OpenAI alongside Elon Musk.
Worldcoin is setting out to create "a new global digital currency that will launch by giving a share to every single person on earth," according to an online job description uncovered by Bloomberg.
To do so, Worldcoin is offering cryptocurrency to people in exchange for their iris scan. It has so far collected 100,000 iris scans and aims to collect 1 billion by 2023. It collects these scans on its proprietary hardware, dubbed an Orb, which is a metallic sphere roughly the size of a melon. Worldcoin currently has Orb Operators setting up scanning sites in 12 countries, including Chile, France, Kenya, Indonesia, Sudan and France.
Worldcoin has 30 Orbs and plans to add hundreds of Orb devices in the coming months. The company said its best-performing operators have "been able to onboard around one thousand users per Orb per week."
So what's the point of all this? Worldcoin says it's designed "to be the first widely adopted cryptocurrency." A key element to this design is the global proof-of-personhood protocol. The company claims none of the existing protocols has reached the global scale necessary to "unlock many meaningful applications."
Worldcoin has set its sights on one of these applications in the digital wallet. The company says the wallet will allow "users to learn about Worldcoin and other cryptocurrencies, find Orb operators, claim their share, view their balance, send global peer-to-peer payments, and use their Worldcoin throughout the Ethereum ecosystem."
Worldcoin's CEO and co-founder Alex Blania also suggested that the company could serve as the infrastructure for universal income, a welfare system popular among Silicon Valley elites, including Altman, Andrew Yang and Musk.
These UBI ambitions seemingly contradict Worldcoin's stated vision of a world where "everyone around the globe, regardless of who they are, could participate in the growing space of digital economies and benefit from decentralized, collective ownership." The concept of UBI generally involves a central government giving regular payment to its citizens. This necessarily involves centralization. And if Worldcoin wants to hold true to its vision of a decentralized, privacy-preserving financial system, then the question becomes who would be paying whom in any future globalized UBI system.