Hong Kong Adopts ChatGPT Founder’s Worldcoin Amid Controversyby Rebecca Oi August 14, 2023
In 2021, the world was introduced to Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency project created by Sam Altman, the creator of ChatGPT. Worldcoin’s unique selling proposition lies in its vision to employ iris scans to distinguish real human users from robots in the rapidly advancing digital landscape.
The project argues that the proliferation of artificial intelligence makes it increasingly challenging to discern between humans and bots online.
Since its unveiling, Worldcoin has faced both enthusiasm and controversy. Hundreds of people in Hong Kong eagerly signed up for the cryptocurrency project, showcasing its appeal in a city at the forefront of cryptocurrency adoption.
However, the project’s implementation of biometric data collection, specifically iris scans, has raised significant concerns about privacy and security worldwide.
An overview of Worldcoin
Worldcoin’s answer to this AI challenge is unique: iris-image registration. Over 2.2 million individuals worldwide have signed up for Worldcoin, undergoing iris scans to obtain a digital ID.
The process involves visiting physical devices named “Orbs” that scan users’ faces and irises, granting them access to 25 Worldcoins (WLD) in their wallets, valued at around US$60 based on market prices.
Participants undergo a process that verifies their uniqueness and authenticity, ensuring they’re genuine humans, not bots. A comprehensive explanation can be found in a Worldcoin blog post on February 2023.
The project aims to release 10 billion tokens into the market over the next 15 years, with the current circulating supply standing at around 120 million tokens, constituting approximately 1.2 percent of the future planned supply.
This strategy forms the core of a worldwide initiative operating in 35 cities across 20 countries, with Hong Kong being one of the pioneer launch locations.
The Hong Kong experience
To sign up with Worldcoin in Hong Kong, interested citizens must visit one of the three designated locations equipped with the ‘Orb’, a high-tech device designed to perform facial and iris scans. Early data revealed that the registration process attracted an enthusiastic crowd.
For instance, Ausvic Capital, a venture capital firm stationed at Cyberport, a government-backed business park, witnessed the registration of 200 individuals on the first day, followed by 100 more the next day.
The firm’s director, Alan Li, shared these statistics, mentioning that they capped the number of registrations per hour to maintain efficiency.
Another blockchain company, Measurable Data Token, which operates the Orb, recorded more than 200 registrations within the first six hours, with an estimated 400 the following day.
Heatherm Huang, the co-founder, noticed that a substantial chunk of these registrants was well-versed in cryptocurrencies, indicating a tech-savvy demographic drawn to the project.
Registrations from Hong Kong constituted nearly half of the total sign-ups that Worldcoin received from all its new markets, pointing towards a successful initial adoption.
Hong Kong: an emerging crypto landscape
Amidst the rising global regulatory challenges, Hong Kong has been steadily carving its niche in the cryptocurrency space.
The city began accepting applications from centralised virtual asset exchanges interested in legal authorisation to serve retail customers under a new regulatory regime.
Over 80 companies have expressed interest in acquiring a license, showcasing Hong Kong’s potential as a rising crypto hub. However, the burgeoning crypto industry also underscores the need for stringent regulations to protect investors.
According to Julia Leung, the CEO of the Securities and Futures Commission, “Hong Kong’s comprehensive virtual assets regulatory framework follows the principle of ‘same business, same risks, same rules’ and aims to provide robust investor protection and manage key risks.”
The controversial waters of Worldcoin
Despite its apparent success in Hong Kong, Worldcoin found itself amidst controversies and critiques. Industry leaders such as Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, have shared their scepticism about the project.
Edward Snowden, an American whistle-blower, highlighted the potential risks associated with iris data collection in a 2021 Twitter post, igniting a global debate about the project’s implications on privacy.
In response to these concerns, Worldcoin highlighted its robust data collection system designed with user privacy at its core.
The registration process doesn’t require submitting personal information, and all biometric images are processed locally on the Orb devices and discarded post-processing unless the user specifically requests a data backup.
French regulators investigated Worldcoin’s biometric data collection practices, citing concerns about data storage and conditions for handling biometric data.
German data protection agencies have been examining the project since the previous year, and the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office announced its intention to inquire into Worldcoin’s practices.
In a significant setback for the project, Kenyan authorities ordered Worldcoin to stop signing up new users due to data privacy concerns. A raid on a Worldcoin warehouse in Nairobi raised further questions about the project’s adherence to privacy regulations.
Worldcoin’s privacy assurances and security ease
Amidst the controversies, Worldcoin has emphasised its commitment to user privacy. The company claims that all biometric images captured by the Orb are processed locally and promptly deleted unless users explicitly request data backup.
Worldcoin also does not require users to provide any personal information during registration.
While these claims may alleviate some privacy concerns, the ongoing investigations highlight the critical need for robust data protection mechanisms and transparency in handling sensitive biometric data.
The company announced it will allow other companies and governments to deploy its identity system.
The significance of biometric data and AI integration
Worldcoin’s reliance on the Orb, a hardware device for capturing iris scans, raises questions about data retention and potential misuse. As the financial stakes increase, the incentive to monetise user data could become a significant concern.
Moreover, the project’s integration of artificial intelligence is a fundamental aspect of its functionality. AI plays a crucial role in real-time verification without the need to maintain a permanent record. This reliance on AI represents a unique approach in the crypto space.
Worldcoin’s vision aligns with Universal Basic Income (UBI), a topic gaining momentum in various parts of the world. The idea is to provide enhanced social safety nets for individuals displaced by automation and AI.
By distributing Worldcoin tokens, the project aims to contribute to the broader discourse on UBI and its potential impact on society.
Innovation vs. regulation
In the ever-changing landscape of digital disruption, finding the right balance between innovation and regulation becomes paramount. Worldcoin’s project serves as a prime example, showcasing the potential of technology to revolutionise economic systems while raising concerns about privacy and data protection.
As Worldcoin and similar initiatives pave the way for the future of the cryptocurrency industry, prioritising user privacy and data protection must be at the forefront of their endeavours.
While Worldcoin’s impact on the crypto space may not be revolutionary, its launch has brought to light essential considerations that will influence the industry’s trajectory.
Interoperability gains significance as smart hardware emerges, demanding tokens to function seamlessly across diverse platforms for lasting relevance.
Integrating AI into crypto projects becomes increasingly crucial to bolstering security and functionality.
Nonetheless, striking the right balance between privacy, innovation, and functionality remains critical for the successful development of future crypto initiatives.
The advent of a new era marked by the convergence of blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and biometric data presages substantial shifts within the cryptocurrency realm. Yet, this transformation is not without controversy. Worldcoin has invoked a mixed response of enthusiasm and scepticism.
As the crypto industry matures, striking the right balance between technological progress and safeguarding user interests becomes imperative. Regulators and industry leaders must be vigilant in protecting data privacy while fostering an environment conducive to innovation.
Worldcoin’s journey exemplifies the duality of our digital evolution. It serves as a powerful testament to human ingenuity and the possibilities of cutting-edge technology while raising red flags around the crucial issues of privacy and data security.
In navigating this intricate landscape, stakeholders must rise to the challenge of driving progress without compromising the fundamental rights of individuals.
By achieving a harmonious fusion of innovation and privacy protection, we can unleash the full potential of this digital revolution and shape a promising future for the cryptocurrency realm.