Worldcoin, the project intent on scanning people’s eyeballs to prove they are indeed people, unveiled its World ID protocol and software development kit today.
Both Worldcoin and its lead software contributor, Tools For Humanity, were co-created by Sam Altman — who is also CEO of ChatGPT creator OpenAI, the smash-hit generative chatbot. The proliferation of AI and generative software have, according to Worldcoin, rendered the issue of online identity that much thornier.
Described in today’s announcement as the “underlying identity protocol” to Worldcoin and powered by zero-knowledge cryptography, the newly launched World ID is a mobile tool that people can use to prove they’re real without sacrificing anonymity. Worldcoin’s Orb — a controversial, iris-scanning bit of hardware — is the main method of getting verified for users. Still, they can also use tools such as phone number verification, albeit with less accuracy.
“This is a decentralized and privacy-first protocol,” Tiago Sada, Head of Product, Engineering and Design at Tools For Humanity, told The Block in an interview. “What that means is that just like people can have self-custodial wallets, with this, people can have self-custodial IDs, where any information is on-device, and how you use it is through zero-knowledge-proofs to make attestations about yourself.”
Rise of the Orbs
Users can get a World ID on any compatible mobile wallet. One option is the World App, which is still in beta.
Orb verification is primarily limited to Argentina, Chile, India, Kenya, Portugal and Spain, though a broader rollout of these devices will happen later this year. Mobile verification, meanwhile, is available in most countries.
The Orb has proven divisive. Its unveiling in June 2021 drew sharp backlash from leading privacy advocates, including Edward Snowden, who warned, “Don’t catalogue eyeballs.” Worldcoin later sought to assuage those concerns by removing links between the biometric registration stage and the wallet with the help of zero-knowledge-proof technology. Sada thinks concerns about the project persist, however.
“There’s also a lot of misconceptions out there,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that your biometric data gets destroyed at the Orb.” That is, unless you opt-in to having your biometric data stored, which, though not incentivized by Worldcoin, helps improve the protocol.
“The iris code is the only thing that leaves the device,” Sada continued. “As counterintuitive as this sounds, World ID is… the most private identity. I would argue that it’s also the most inclusive and scalable in many ways.”
His argument hinges on the idea that traditional Know Your Customer checks (KYC) involve giving up a great deal more personal information in the form of ID scans — while many people don’t have an ID to give up in the first place.
Sada also said that if there was a better tool for proving a person’s uniqueness, Worldcoin would readily abandon the Orb, given the constraints of manufacturing hardware. Indeed, Tools for Humanity has a team actively searching for such a solution.
For now, though, the Orb rollout continues. Worldcoin is ramping up Orb distribution through an operator program that compensates businesses for getting people scanned. It currently has 1.3 million sign-ups, according to today’s announcement.
Worldcoin singled out sign-on as the simplest use case for World ID. Other potential use cases for its technology include bot protection and moderation in social networks; voting in DAOs; supporting uncollateralized lending; loyalty programs and coupons; reviews on marketplaces; and welfare distribution. Its first showcase for the tech will focus on verification for Discord, a social network popular with crypto projects.
“It probably takes the imagination of a lot more people to think of what you could do with this. When the iPhone was introduced, you wouldn’t have imagined Uber,” Sada said. “It’s a fundamental primitive. It will exist. And Worldcoin is about making sure that it exists in a decentralized and privacy-serving way.”
As for the SDK, developers have been invited to register for a waitlist to get early access to a beta version of the product, which is open to anyone and includes a web widget, developer portal, development simulator, examples and guides.
Worldcoin is valued at $3 billion after reportedly raising $100 million from Khosla Ventures and a16z in March 2022. The Block revealed in February that the company is seeking another round of funding at the same valuation. The company has earmarked the first half of this year for the launch of its token.
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