Throughout the last week of July, select malls and metro stations in Delhi, Gurugram, Noida and Bengaluru have seen unusual queues of young people forming at temporary desks to share their phone numbers and contact details and have the iris of their eye scanned by a globe-shaped device.
They are signing up at WorldCoin, which calls itself “world’s largest, most inclusive identity and financial public utility, owned by everyone”. This has three elements:
- World ID, a digital identity designed to help prove an individual’s unique personhood ie prove I am a human being not an Artificial Intelligence-created bot.
- Worldcoin token (WLD), where laws allow, claiming to be the first digital currency to be freely distributed to people for just being a unique human
- World App, the first World ID-compatible app, developed and operated by Tools for Humanity, that enables payment, purchases and transfers globally using digital assets like crypto currency.
One of the three cofounders of the WorldCoin project is Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and company behind the ChatGPT AI tool that took the world by storm in late 2022.
Proof of personhood
The founders say in a joint statement on their website: “You can now download World App, the first protocol-compatible wallet, and reserve your share. After visiting an Orb, a biometric verification device, you will receive a World ID. This lets you prove you are a real and unique person online while remaining completely private”.
The initiative is more than a year old but it is only since July 24 that it was formally launched across 35 cities in 20 countries including India.
A Reuters story datelined London, Tokyo and Bengaluru was the first news for many Indian professionals who have been queueing up patiently at some 18 temporary kiosks in Bengaluru and the national capital region to have their iris scan taken by looking into the Orb, a shiny ball shaped device.
In Bengaluru’s Mantri Mall — one of two locations in the city — nearly 500 persons have been turning up every day at the Worldscan desk which is also conveniently located at a metro station entrance.
Are they all motivated by the invitation to establish their identity as a human in a world where real and virtual identities are difficult to tell apart thanks to Artificial Intelligence? (see Swarajya’s related report on AI-created news Anchors).
Free crypto tokens
Or is it the incentive offered of 20-25 free Worldcoin tokens for those who downloaded the Worldcoin app, registered and had their iris scanned? These tokens which can be traded like bitcoins and other crypto currencies.
Organisers at the Mantri Mall registration desk, told this correspondent that the value of each token fluctuated. It was worth US$ 5 some days back and had settled to around $2.50.
For many young applicants the free tokens were justification enough. Indeed, this has been the scene in many countries where the Orb scanning centres have been set up.
When Worldcoin first launched in 2022, some in the tech media raised privacy concerns and wondered what the organisers would do with millions of digital IDs. In the months since, some of these concerns seem to have been addressed. The presence of the ChatGPT pioneer among the promoters of Worldcoin may go some way to reassure the general public
Says Worldcoin: “At the heart of this mission is the belief that everyone deserves access to the global economy, including the 4.4 billion people worldwide whose lack of a legal or digitally verifiable identity makes it difficult to access financial services”.
Altruistic. However the combo of this high-minded objective and the earthy attraction of some crypto currency for free, may lead some lay citizens to await some clarity before rushing to stare into a golden orb and get a certificate that they belong to the human race.
But for the Indians pushing and shoving at the Worldcoin kiosks this week to have their eye scanned, this is clearly a no brainer.
Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.
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