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OpenAI’s Sam Altman approaches $100 million in funding for Worldcoin, the crypto project that scans your irises to prove you’re not a robot

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during a keynote address at Microsoft's headquarters.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during a keynote address at Microsoft's headquarters.
Jason Redmond—AFP/Getty Images

Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, is already drowning in billions of dollars in venture capital funding after launching ChatGPT, the now-ubiquitous chatbot that’s set off an A.I. zeitgeist.

Now, another project he’s backed, Worldcoin, is nearing $100 million in funding, according to three people with knowledge of the deal who spoke to the Financial Times.

Contributors to Altman’s crypto project, which aims to convince billions to scan their irises to prove that they’re human, include new as well as prior investors. Past backers are a16z crypto, the venture arm of Coinbase, Khosla Ventures, and Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX.

A spokesperson for Worldcoin declined to comment on the deal.

The funding news is a bright spot in a bleak year for crypto investments. Venture funding for Web3 startups plummeted from $9.1 billion in the first quarter of 2022 to $1.7 billion in 2023, an 82% year-over-year decrease, according to Crunchbase.

Plans for Worldcoin, which falls under the umbrella company of Tools for Humanity, first leaked in June 2021. At its core, the project is a solution to the robot dystopia that Altman’s OpenAI has made seem tangible: In a world increasingly populated by A.I., how do we know what is and isn’t human?

The team behind Worldcoin, populated with Ph.D.s and longtime software engineers, aims to prove “humanness” through scanning irises. To incentivize users to lend their eyeballs to the “orb,” a chrome ball that scans them, the project eventually settled on distributing a cryptocurrency, Worldcoin, to individuals who participate. Eventually, in a future where A.I. takes all of our jobs, Worldcoin tokens become akin to universal basic income.

Since Bloomberg first reported on Worldcoin, the project has come under scrutiny for trials of its iris-scanning technology in developing countries. The company has said reports of the trials, first published by BuzzFeed News and MIT Technology Review, are unfair, and it has continued to prepare for a public launch in the first of half of 2023. In fact, Worldcoin last week released World App, a crypto wallet that can hold Bitcoin and Ethereum and, of course, Worldcoin.

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