Modern-day gold rush: the guru of artificial intelligence would maximize data colonization
Modern-day gold rush: the guru of artificial intelligence would maximize data colonization

Fotó: Shutterstock / PuzzlePix

2023. 09. 18.
After three years of preparation, the Worldcoin digital identification platform was officially launched on 24th July, 2023. In addition to a verified digital identity, the startup promises its users a cryptocurrency- based universal basic income- in exchange for their biometric data.

The development of artificial intelligence makes it increasingly difficult to determine whether real people or bots are behind a given online activity.

This is a fundamental problem in decentralized technologies, especially due to the risk of so-called Sybil attacks (in this case, one entity of the network operates several false identities at the same time and threatens the confidentiality of the data exchanged by real users- by the way, the title of a published book was named after a phenomenon, a 1973 story about a woman with dissociative personality disorder). The fact that there has not yet been an effective, all- around satisfactory solution for this also hinders the mass spread of Web3- this blockchain- based third generation of the Internet would allow data and content to be controlled in a decentralized manner instead of a handful of tech companies.

The answers given so far to the question of proof of personality use two main approaches (often a combination of them). They can be social graph- based (verified users "verification" that the new user is also human) and biometric (they include the control of the unique physical characteristics of the new user).

Now a project that is more ambitious than ever, based on proving that the user is a unique and unrepeatable person, has appeared on the scene. The co-founder of Tools for Humanity, the company that created Worldcoin, is Sam Altman, who until now was best known as the CEO of OpenAI, which released ChatGPT.


The iris of the prospective user (which, like a fingerprint, is different for everyone) is scanned with a camera hidden in a chrome sphere to make sure that the person is who he/she is and whether he/she is trying to "rehearse". In doing so, they create a unique identification code that the company says is not linked to a user's personal data- it exists solely to prevent someone from obtaining more than one ID. As they say, the individual iris images are deleted, from now on they are no longer needed, i.e. there is no need to scan the eye at every identification- instead, there is the issued "World ID".

With the code, you need to download the World App, which also acts as an encrypted wallet, but whose primary purpose is to store credentials. Finally, the user gets access to the WLD cryptocurrency token (Worldcoin is the name of the currency, but the company is also often referred to as such). The identifier, the app and the cryptocurrency together make up the Worldcoin construction, which, according to its designers, should be imagined as a three- legged chair.

Crypto exchanges listed WLD for trading as part of the platform's official launch. Worldcoin claims to have registered more than two million users during the testing phase in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul, Paris, Lisbon, Mexico City, São Paulo, Nairobi, New York, San Francisco and about 25 other cities. According to the plans, they will start recruiting users in a total of 20 countries around the world.


Worldcoin is being advertised as an "ethereum- based new shared ownership global currency" that will be "equitably distributed" among all verifiable human inhabitants of the planet.

Unconditional basic income (FNA or UBI, more commonly used in English) is actually one of the staples of Silicon Valley billionaires. In many identity verification projects, the built- in UBI token is a "flagship application" (each registered user receives a fixed amount of cryptocurrency at certain intervals). Sam Altman is no exception: "I'm very interested in topics like universal basic income and what will happen with the redistribution of global wealth."- he told Bloomberg. He added that Worldcoin aims to "provide universal access to the global economy, regardless of country or background, accelerating the transition to an economic future that benefits everyone on the planet."

Altman and other tech gurus justify the need for UBI by saying that as artificial intelligence will create abundance for humanity, it will also take away the jobs of many and governments will be unable to cope with rising unemployment.

Forrás: Twitter / Worldcoin
The sphere used to scan the rainbow skin has become the "trademark" of Worldcoin. (Source: Twitter / Worldcoin)

However, according to some economists, the desired goals could be achieved with tax incentives much more effectively than with the introduction of UBI. This would increase the already existing social costs and the expenses associated with providing them to such an extent that they would not be able to cover them even with drastic tax increases.

The basic income programs launched so far in the name of fighting poverty and improving economic prospects (by the way, such benefits were also provided in several countries during the coronavirus epidemic) have only brought positive results in the third world, and have adversely affected work activity in Western societies.

This also proves that it is not worth discarding the work- based approach during the response to the acceleration of automation (this includes, for example, the retraining of those present on the labor market or the creation of new types of jobs). The development of the economy is made possible by the high level of employment, the incomes of employees and entrepreneurs, and the resulting demand and consumption. Incomes given without working can only be justified temporarily.


It also turned out that Tools for Humanity was driven by more than just altruism when it began testing the project in developing countries in 2021. MTI Technology Review called the action cryptocolonization (Deception, exploited workers, and cash handouts, 6th April, 2022).

The news reported that residents of Indonesia and other developing countries have been waiting in long lines since dawn in the middle of the pandemic on the specified days for Worldcoin representatives to scan their irises, collect their phone numbers and other data. One of the strongest incentives was the promise of free money. This begs the question, if it is about attracting users to a new cryptocurrency, why did they target lower- income communities? In particular, the concept of digital currency often had to (should) be explained to people who did not even have e- mail.

Researchers explain Worldcoin's behavior with the competition for data. Due to stricter data protection laws in the European Union and the United States, less population information can be obtained than in the developing world. For example, the GDPR implemented in 2018, which requires that data subjects receive full information about why their data is collected, how it will be used, where it will be transferred and how it can be deleted, applies even if the company is registered in Delaware and San Francisco-based Worldcoin bids for personal data of European citizens.

Fotó: AP / Stephen Brashear
OpenAI CEO and Worldcoin founder Sam Altman. (Photo: AP / Stephen Brashear)


In fact, the collection of biometric data is now a common practice used by governments and aid organizations to verify identity. At the same time, information intended for development and the suppression of fraud and corruption can become a tool of persecution in the wrong hands- there are already examples of this.

According to a March 2022 report by Human Rights Watch, since taking power in Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban have had access to a biometric registry created for the payroll of police, security personnel, the army and judges. The document also mentions the case of a former judge who was "failed" by his fingerprints stored in the database when he tried to leave the country.

The United States Department of Defense also created its own monitoring and tracking systems in the country in order to identify the rebels. Part of the management of these huge databases is Gotham, the decision- making platform of the software company Palantir, which, integrated with artificial intelligence, can interpret large amounts of unstructured data and reveal their internal relationships. Individuals identified and tracked based on biometric information handled by Palantir have been liquidated.


The unique code number issued by India's Aadhaar, the world's largest biometric identity system gives access to social benefits, banking, education and health services. It is undisputed that it has contributed to the reduction of identity fraud and corruption, and even the tracking function has proven useful (for example, it has been used successfully in tuberculosis programs in poor neighborhoods). However, the bureaucrats also use the information at their disposal for blackmail and pressure.


Worldcoin has come under a lot of criticism. In his blog post, Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, highlighted the inevitable data leakage, the further narrowing of the possibility of anonymous Internet navigation, the possible abuses of authoritarian governments and the unresolved issue of security and decentralization among the risks.

Regarding centralization, for example, he suggested that we have no way to control how the spheres are made, therefore, even if the software layer is perfect and completely decentralized, Worldcoin Foundation is still able to introduce a "backdoor" into the system, allowing the creation of false identities.

Fotó: Shutterstock / PuzzlePix
By introducing an unconditional basic income, a new economic system would be built. (Photo: Shutterstock / PuzzlePix)

Currently, Tools for Humanity is the sole manufacturer of the spheres, but its stated goal is to eventually transition to a system where decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs: community members can participate in the management and decision- making of the organization) supervise who can make the scanners.

According to Buterin, calculations can be pulled through by the common trap of unified protocols, that in practice one manufacturer dominates, so it actually fails to decentralize. It may also happen that such a distributed production mechanism cannot be made secure. For example, if just one vendor is hacked, they can generate an unlimited number of fake world IDs, but even a malicious government can obtain users' accounts.

Users' phones can be hacked, and hackers can use artificial intelligence to create photos or even 3D prints that are convincing enough to fool the orb's software. The possibility of selling IDs is also a danger.

Getting someone out of the system can also be a problem: due to the fragility of biometric approaches, people who are accidentally rejected do not get UBI and thus potentially cannot participate in online life.

(Translated by Anett Harmath)

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