What Is Worldcoin and Why Does It Need to Scan Your Eyeball?
Worldcoin is a global network with exciting ambitions: the company aims to deliver a form of universal basic income through technology to make the world a better and more equitable place, while also offering a way for users to verify their humanity in a digital future filled with nonhuman intelligence by using a method it calls “proof of personhood.” Its innovative identity verification platform enables users to verify their human identity online and to distinguish themselves from bots and artificial intelligence algorithms, and its financial services involve the use of an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency. After two years in development and amid high anticipation, the Worldcoin platform was launched on July 24, 2023.
Since its launch, the Worldcoin project has gained substantial attention, due in large part to its iris-scanning Orb device. In this article, we describe the Worldcoin project in detail and explain why the Orb is a key part of how the system works.
The Worldcoin ecosystem
The Worldcoin ecosystem can be divided into the following three main elements:
- World ID: a privacy-preserving digital identity designed to help solve important, identity-based challenges, including proving an individual’s unique personhood. A World ID is an ID that’s issued to one real person and used as proof of his or her personhood.
- World App: an app that enables payments, purchases, and transfers globally using digital assets and traditional currencies.
- Worldcoin token (WLD): a cryptocurrency token that gives users a say over the direction of the Worldcoin protocol and that can be used to send and receive value globally. WLD is the first token to be globally and freely distributed to people just for being unique individuals. WLD tokens are airdropped to users upon World ID verification.
How does Worldcoin work?
The way Worldcoin works is that users first generate a private and public key with the World App. Users then go to an Orb to verify their humanness and receive a unique proof-of-personhood credential (World ID), which is attached to their World App. The Orb scans irises to establish that users are real humans and to ensure only one World ID is issued per user. Approximately 2.2 million Orb-verified World IDs have been created as of August 2023.
Worldcoin has launched Orbs in major cities across Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Africa. In the United States, some of the first Orbs were made available in San Francisco and New York, with others anticipated in the coming months. The company aims to have 1,500 orbs available in 35 cities around the globe by later this year.
At the core of the Worldcoin platform lies its World ID, a revolutionary concept called proof of personhood that is designed to allow users to verify their digital identity while prioritizing privacy. World IDs are created using a cutting-edge biometric scanning device called the Orb.
The Orb is a chromatic device about the size of a basketball that is used to register an individual’s face, iris, body, and doppler radar detections of breathing and heartbeat via a two-camera optical system. The collected data are then used as input into an algorithm that generates a hash value. Once the Orb establishes that a user is a living human and not already verified, it issues a unique World ID to the user.
Similar to the uniqueness of their fingerprints, every individual possesses a distinct iris pattern. When the Orb scans a user’s iris, it captures the intricate structure of the iris and generates a special identification code, known as an IrisCode. Importantly, this code is not linked to any personal information, serving solely to prevent the acquisition of multiple World IDs by a single individual.
As of today, the World App is primarily a cryptocurrency wallet, although it can hold only a limited number of cryptocurrency tokens, namely Bitcoin, Ethereum, USDC, and Worldcoin tokens. Worldcoin’s developers have said that users should expect more crypto tokens to be supported in the future. When used with a World ID, the World App can be used to verify a user’s identity on participating third-party apps, although these are presently few and far between. World ID has so far been integrated with Okta’s authentication marketplace.
Worldcoin token (WLD)
As outlined in the Worldcoin white paper, the total supply of WLD tokens is capped at 10 billion, with issuance to occur over a period of 15 years. At the time of writing, the price of a single WLD token is US$1.98 and approximately 143 million WLD tokens have already been issued, among which 43 million were allocated to verified World App users and 100 million to market makers to facilitate trading activities. In total, 75% of all WLD tokens are allocated to the community, 9.8% to the initial development team, 13.5% to the investors of Tools for Humanity, and 1.7% to a reserve fund.
The organization has three cofounders:
- Altman is currently the CEO of OpenAI and played a key role in launching Worldcoin.
- Novendstern was involved in the early stages of Worldcoin but has since moved on to launch another startup.
- Blania, who studied theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology and the Max Planck Society, is currently the CEO of Worldcoin. Blania originally joined Worldcoin as an engineer before becoming CEO in 2021.
Worldcoin digital identification
The Worldcoin digital identification platform is intended to provide a convenient way for Internet users to verify that text, video, and any other type of content online was created by a real human rather than a large language model or other artificial intelligence algorithm.
World ID is an open and permissionless identity protocol that empowers individuals to verify their humanness online while maintaining their anonymity. Advancements in artificial intelligence are making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between artificial intelligence and humans on the Internet, highlighting a need for authentic human recognition and verification. To address this, Worldcoin platform users can receive a future-proof unique human credential through a secure biometric device in a privacy-preserving manner.
Worldcoin is an Ethereum-based “new, collectively owned global currency that will be distributed fairly to as many people as possible.” Everyone in the world can get their free share of WLD tokens—if they agree to an iris scan.
The Orb is necessary because of Worldcoin’s commitment to fairness: each person should get their allotted share of WLD tokens—and no more. To ensure no double-dipping, the Orb scans irises and several other biometric data points and then cryptographically confirms that users are human and unique in Worldcoin’s database.
“I’ve been very interested in things like universal basic income and what’s going to happen to global wealth redistribution,” Sam Altman told Bloomberg in 2021. Worldcoin was intended, he explained, to answer the question “Is there a way we can use technology to do that at a global scale?”
- Connecting real people to digital identities is well known to be a challenge. Unfortunately, nothing in the design of Worldcoin can prevent sybil attackers from farming eyeballs on the ground level through capitalistic or nefarious means. A user could sell their World ID to another user, who can then command more than one digital identity, defeating the purpose of the platform for preventing sybil attacks.
- Worldcoin has a minor accessibility problem. Namely, the project only caters to humans with eyes. Approximately 30 out of every 100,000 individuals are born without one or both eyes, thereby rendering them unable to access Worldcoin. Fortunately, Worldcoin is aware of this limitation and working to solve it.
- Worldcoin has been criticized for including a token in its product offering. Cryptocurrency tokens are essentially created out of thin air and accrue value to token holders based on the marginal price of the circulating supply. Cryptocurrency project founders and insiders use the token issuance model as a mechanism getting a return on their investment; however, the model is prone to manipulation, such as pump-and-dump schemes, and hacking incidents, and retail investors are often left “holding the bags” after purchasing tokens whose value typically declines over time.
- The global distribution of WLD tokens is not entirely global. Worldcoin is billed as a network that is owned by everyone, with tokens that will be widely and equally distributed on a global scale. However, individuals in the United States, Türkiye, Sudan, and China are not eligible to be airdropped WLD tokens upon World ID verification. Furthermore, according to Worldcoin’s terms and conditions, WLD tokens are not intended to be available for use, purchase, or access by US persons.
- Ownership of total share of WLD tokens. The decision to allocate a significant chunk (25%) of all the WLD tokens that will ever exist to insiders is a curious choice, given that equal distribution was a stated goal. Cryptocurrency projects typically allocate 1%–30% of tokens to founders and insiders, and these usually vest over a period of 1–5 years.
Where can you buy Worldcoin?
The top 5 exchanges for buying and selling Worldcoin the following:
The future of Worldcoin
Worldcoin could significantly increase equality of opportunity globally by advancing a future where everyone, regardless of their location, can participate in the global digital economy through universally accessible decentralized financial and identity infrastructure. We will be watching keenly to see whether Worldcoin plays a major role in the future of online identity verification and global finances.
Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.