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An Introduction to Sam Altman’s Crypto Project, Worldcoin

The AI revolution comes with a long list of advantages, but also uncertainties. It's these uncertainties that are leading to a relatively under-the-radar project anchored in blockchain technology: Worldcoin.

Outside of Elon Musk, there’s no hotter name in tech right now than Sam Altman.

The trajectory of this 38-year-old entrepreneur has been nothing short of meteoric since he left Stanford in 2005. After swiftly climbing the tech ladder, he joined Y Combinator, a prominent startup accelerator, as a partner in 2011. His responsibilities expanded in 2014 when he assumed the position of President. During his tenure, Altman has been instrumental in investing in a multitude of tech startups.

By 2020, however, Altman then shifted his primary focus to OpenAI, serving as the CEO.

Now, unless you’ve been living on a deserted island for the last 6 months, you know that AI is all the rage these days – an ongoing revolution largely thanks to OpenAI’s release of ChatGPT, which reached 100 million users in two months, the fastest growing app on record.

The AI revolution comes with a long list of advantages (ChatGPT is a godsend for time management!) and, of course, uncertainties (could AI monopolize employment and become a vector for mass misinformation?) as well.

These uncertainties can be daunting, which is why Altman is spearheading a relatively under-the-radar project to address them.

Intriguingly, this project is anchored in blockchain technology: Worldcoin.

Rocky Beginnings

Worldcoin first hit the press in 2021. At that time, AI was a pipe dream. Concerns over its potential consequences were virtually nonexistent. But Altman, because of his work with OpenAI, knew otherwise.

AI was coming, and the time to prepare was now.

A chief concern of Altman’s was what people will do once AI enters the workforce. In a world without the need to work as much, how do people make a living? His answer: Universal Basic Income (UBI) derived from the immense capital gains an AI workforce would produce.

Thus, Worldcoin was born, initially described as a “collectively-owned global currency that will be distributed fairly to as many people as possible”. Basically, it was the crypto version of UBI.

It was (and still is) a super cool idea, but the way Worldcoin went about it turned a lot of people off, including us. The rockiness began when people realized they would only receive their UBI after scanning their eyeballs into a Worldcoin metal “orb” and really picked up when the MIT Technology Review exposed how Worldcoin recruited its first 500,000 users.

Then the crypto market crashed, AI took off, and people forgot about Worldcoin. That is, until this March.

Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself

Worldcoin’s new mission is to create a three-pronged product suite of:

  • Global ID

  • Global currency

  • An app that enables payments, purchases, and transfers using a mix of cryptocurrency and traditional currencies

The first part of this plan was fulfilled in March with the announcement of the proof-of-personhood protocol World ID. The idea behind World ID is to be a digital passport verifying you are a human while protecting your privacy. Thus, people who have a World ID can use it to sign into various web and crypto apps, proving that they are in fact a real person.

Although this is something that could prove crucial in the AI age of the internet where the lines between robot and man become increasingly blurry, the concerns over user privacy are still alive, as aspiring World ID’ers must verify themselves either through their phone or through an eye scan.

The World App

Another part of Altman’s plan (an app that enables payments) was recently fulfilled with the release of Worldcoin’s crypto wallet, World App.

On the surface level, World App is simply a minimalist crypto wallet. Existing on the Polygon blockchain, World App allows people to store and send Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the stablecoin DAI. In this regard, it’s really nothing special compared to the other wallet offerings on the market.

What makes World App different is its role in the broader Worldcoin vision. World App is where people will manage their World ID, claim their Worldcoin Grants (the UBI from Worldcoin’s token, due to be released later this year), and partake in the governance of the Worldcoin protocol. In this regard, World App is absolutely special compared to the other crypto wallets, especially if the vision of AI-funded UBI comes to fruition.

Why Does This All Matter?

A common criticism of crypto is that what it’s doing doesn’t really matter in the real-world. And, although we’ve highlighted projects with real-world use before, the truth is that these critics are largely right.

Too much of crypto is financial speculation and whale games.

Worldcoin is admirable because it aims for more. Using crypto to address two of the biggest issues stemming from the AI future (how one proves they are not a robot, or how one pays their bills if the robots replace their jobs) is a clever and inspiring use of blockchain technology.

Obviously, the project is not without its drawbacks, particularly in the user privacy realm. But, if they are able to remedy those ills, Sam Altman may just hit another homer in the coming years.