Jul 25, 2023
By Fabian Kurman
With the development of AI tools, it becomes more and more difficult to recognize whether a digital counterpart is a human or a machine. The Worldcoin project wants to change that and authenticate people using an iris scan. The global rollout of 1,500 scanning stations begins this week.
It seems to be the week of mega ideas: yesterday, Elon Musk renamed the news service Twitter ‘X’ in order to develop an application ‘for everything’: chat, messages, reservations and payments. But he’s not the only one who wants to change the whole world. At the same time, the company Tools for Humanity yesterday took a further step and is rolling out its human registrars worldwide, with which people will be digitally distinguished from AI in the future. The goal is a global identification and payment system. The company was co-founded by Sam Altman, the head of OpenAI. Its ChatGTP program has been causing a stir since last November.
1500 scanners record real people around the world
Since then, awareness of AI and its possibilities has changed in Germany. Apparently the time has come for Tools for Humanity (TFH) to also register people in Germany as people by iris scanning. This has been possible in Berlin for almost a month. It’s one of 1,500 “orbs” that are currently deployed around the world, including 13 European cities. They look like silver colored balls but are an iris scanner with additional electronics to process biometric data. Registration must therefore be done in person on site.
One for all: universal authentication with World ID
The other part of TFH revolves around a cryptocurrency that goes by the pompous name of “Worldcoin” and is meant to financially connect the entire world in the future. Whereas with Bitcoin and Co. you cannot tell if there is a human or an AI on the other end of a transaction, Worldcoin users are biometrically verified as human through an iris scan. Both cryptocurrencies are based on blockchain technology. But with a so-called “World ID”, it will not only be possible to receive payments in Worldcoin via the World app in the future, it should also be possible to register with digital services, for example with Twitter – i.e. “X” – or with Discord. TFH promises little effort to the app developer for integration.
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Iris photos will be deleted after saving
The German government has already started using biometric data for identification with e-ID. However, TFH is not a government, but a private company that people entrust with their iris scans by the dozens. However, according to TFH, the photos the Orb takes of the iris should be deleted after the device generates an iris-based ID code. It should also not be necessary to transmit personal information during registration. In extreme cases, the World ID only proves that the owner is a unique human person. To ensure that this uniqueness cannot be used for digital tracking, a process called zero-knowledge protocol is used. This is to verify that it is a human being without transmitting who.
There are currently 2 million real people registered
The Worldcoin project writes on its website that “more than 150,000 people” have already received a global identity card using the TFH iris scanner in the sole test country, Spain. With 1,500 new orb scanners, the growth rate should increase to 200,000 registrations per week. A total of 2 million global ID cards are currently issued.
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Germany plays a special role in the collection of biometric data. The scanner was developed in Germany and in Erlangen, Bavaria there is a second branch next to Berlin. The current CEO and co-founder of TFH Alex Blania studied physics at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and then specialized in the AI branch of deep learning at the Max Planck Institute, among others. Although OpenAI boss Sam Altman is also a co-founder and on paper also a member of the Tools for Humanity leadership team, he’s unlikely to be heavily involved with it anymore, as he should be well utilized after ChatGPT’s success with OpenAI.
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