Over 100,000 people have had their eyes scanned for free cryptocurrencies

People in Chile with Worldcoin's
Enlarge / People in Chile with Worldcoin’s “Orb” iris scanner.


More than 100,000 people have had their eyes scanned in exchange for a cryptocurrency called Worldcoin, as a project to distribute digital money more widely around the world is accelerated.

Worldcoin has distributed around 30 iris scanning hardware devices, which they call “orbs,” to early adopters on four continents, who earn rewards for registering more people. The orbs take photos of a user’s eyes, creating a unique code that can be used to claim free digital tokens.

Project developers said Thursday that they planned to launch hundreds of orbs in the coming months and eventually distribute 4,000 devices per month. The team plans to debut the cryptocurrency network early next year and start giving away the tokens at that time. They have not said how much cryptocurrency users can expect to receive.

Worldcoin amounts to one of the most ambitious and complex attempts to deliver cryptocurrencies to the world’s population, similar to the economic concept of universal basic income. The project has already faced feverish criticism and its own developers admit that “the outcome is uncertain.”

Alex Blania, co-founder of Worldcoin, denied that the project invaded people’s privacy, saying that the orbs convert iris scans into unique strings of letters and numbers before permanently removing the images.

The resulting code would simply be used to check if a user has already claimed a portion of the Worldcoin tokens.

“Even if you had your iris code one way or another, you wouldn’t have a chance to find out who you really are on the blockchain,” Blania said, referring to the digital ledgers that underpin cryptocurrencies. Worldcoin is based on the ethereum blockchain.

Blania said that some 130,000 people had signed up for the project so far, and the token would be valuable as a technology that can be used for new financial applications.

The team behind Worldcoin has raised $ 25 million in venture capital, including a funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz that valued the company, Tools for Humanity, at $ 1 billion.

Sam Altman, former president of startup accelerator Y Combinator, is also an investor and co-founder of the project. Altman has been a vocal advocate for universal basic income, the concept of providing people with free money on a regular basis.

Worldcoin plans to issue 10 billion tokens in total, with 80 percent for users, 10 percent for the company’s investors, and another 10 percent for a base to manufacture the orbs and develop the network.

Blania said that the co-founders and employees will receive a portion of the foundation’s tokens, declining to provide an exact figure. A Worldcoin spokesperson said the company planned to establish the foundation before the network’s debut.

Like many cryptocurrency projects, Worldcoin tokens are not backed by hard assets and could fluctuate in value based on their popularity.

Worldcoin estimated that it could reach more than 1 billion people within the network’s first two years of operation, assuming people continue to sign up at current rates and the team meets its orb distribution targets.

People who sign up for Worldcoin will receive their full token allocation over time through a pre-planned allocation schedule, which Blania said was still in development.

Blania said that the rate at which Worldcoin is distributed would ultimately depend on the design of the allocation schedule and the pace of user subscriptions.

So far, Worldcoin has distributed orbs in 12 countries in Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia. The most productive orb owner has hired more than 10,000 people in Chile by hiring 20 people who work shifts, the company said.

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