How Worldcoin Is Solving Digital Identity
Why the co-founder of the company behind ChatGPT is on a quest to put your identity on the blockchain
By: Zack Guzman
May 10, 2023
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Proving who you are is relatively easy when you're in-person. Proving who you are online? Well that's another story.
Remove some of the things anyone in a developed country might take for granted — like a functioning government, easy access to DMV offices, or even access to a computer — and suddenly "proof-of-identity" becomes trickier said than done.
Enter Worldcoin, a new Web3 digital identity project incubated by a tech company co-founded by Sam Altman — the same mind behind ChatGPT-backer OpenAI. Unlike other identity solutions, which might need a government or private intermediary, the a16z-backed Worldcoin team is actively scaling a solution to onramp millions of people's identities on the blockchain using high-tech, eye-scanning orbs.
"The mission of Worldcoin is to give everyone access to the global economy," says Tiago Sada, Head of Product at Tools for Humanity, the company behind Worldcoin. "We like to say it will hopefully become the largest financial and identity network for real humans."
If it all sounds wild, it kind of is. Worldcoin already has 150 orbs floating around the globe — in Argentina, in Chile, in India, in Africa — with people signing up to have their eyes scanned in order to prove they are a unique person on-chain (and get a kickback of Worldcoin tokens as long as they are outside the US.)
Importantly, Worldcoin says it doesn't store any unencrypted data, like actual photos of peoples eyes, but rather just hashes corresponding to unique identities. That prevents any one person from ever using their eye scans twice to create two on-chain identities.
"It turns out that the iris is both very resistant to fraud … but at the same time it has enough entropy to differentiate between one and ten billion people,” Sada says.
And in a digitally-native world where people like Sam Altman are scaring everyone with the rate of innovation on the AI front, it's not super hard to imagine why having some digital, on-chain proof you are really you might be useful. That power can be used for good — like ensuring universal basic income only gets distributed once to people who need it. But it could just as easily maybe be used for bad — like tracking people in ways we might not even be able to imagine.
"In a world with really advanced AI, you start asking things like, 'How can you decentralize control or governance of those systems?'" Sada asked during a new Coinage interview. Worldcoin, which attracted backers like VCs a16z, Coinbase, and Tiger Global to raise more than $125 million, says it increasingly wants the project to become more and more decentralized over time, but crypto projects don't necessarily have the best track record when it comes to living up to those ideals.
Right now, Captcha works perfectly fine to prevent bots in some instances. But then again, ChatGPT also reportedly tricked a human into helping it pass a Captcha test so maybe that's not so true anymore. Or, as Sada poses, "When everything can be faked online, how do you know when something is 20,000 accounts or 20,000 people or when it’s just like one dude with 20,000 bots running?”
Watch our full interview with Worldcoin's Tiago Sada above, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up to date on all things Coinage — including our full Episode looking at Worldcoin and the solution of Web3 digital identity. Want to co-own the first award-winning Web3 outlet? Mint now!