Oh No, There’s an Orb Shortage

Worldcoin, the project that hands out free cryptocurrency in exchange for biometric data, is experiencing a shortage of the orbs that scan everyone’s eyeballs, according to a new report from Semafor. But Tools for Humanity, the startup behind Worldcoin, seems to think that’s a good sign. Apparently, 10 million people in 160 countries have been willing to hand over their scans in exchange for some free crypto.

Tools for Humanity was founded in 2019 by OpenAI’s Sam Altman and CEO Alex Blania as a form of universal basic income experiment. Everyone who’s willing to get their eyes scanned gets 10 Worldcoin (roughly $50 in total at the current price) and three Worldcoin every two weeks after that, according to Semafor. The program isn’t available to people inside the U.S. right now, which Americans can interpret as either a good or bad sign, depending on your feelings about crypto.

Semafor reports there are somewhere between 300 and 500 Worldcoin orbs out there in the world right now, and while the initial idea was to make the devices mobile so they could be moved around to wherever people congregate, it appears the idea is so popular Worldcoin can remain stationary and allow people to come to them. In fact, they’re getting swamped with so many people the orbs can’t be produced fast enough.

Everyone loves free money, even if they have to hand over sensitive data, but what’s the business model? Despite having some very high-profile investors, that part isn’t clear, at least officially. Worldcoin announced its own blockchain built on the Ethereum network last week and World Assets, a subsidiary of the Worldcoin Foundation, announced on Tuesday it’ll be selling a whole lot of crypto in the near future, according to CoinTelegraph.

Curiously, anyone who tries to visit the announcement page from inside the U.S. is met with a notice that it can’t be accessed by Americans, as you can see in the screenshot below. The U.S. has cracked down on cryptocurrency in recent years following the spectacular implosion of FTX thanks to the shenanigans of Sam Bankman-Fried. But Worldcoin is more than happy to push its orb scanner into other parts of the world.

Screenshot: Worldcoin

Tools for Humanity is obviously aware of how dystopian the entire concept sounds. And the company insists it takes privacy very seriously.

“To prioritize privacy, all of the liveness verification occurs on the device itself. Additionally, anyone can verify their humanness at an Orb without providing information such as names, email addresses, phone numbers, social profiles, etc,” the Worldcoin website explains.

Semafor reports that intense skepticism of Worldcoin is waning, though the news outlet simply cites a Business Insider article from July 2023 in an attempt to prove that point. The headline to that piece doesn’t exactly sell the assertion very well: “We tried out Sam Altman’s eyeball-scanning Worldcoin orbs. It all felt too low-key to be truly dystopian.” Because, as we all know, low-key endeavors are never sketchy. And creating your own currency out of thin air doesn’t raise any red flags historically.

The price of Worldcoin has been on quite a rollercoaster since launching in July 2023, hovering between $1-2 for the first few months before seeing a big surge in February and an all-time high in March of just over $10.60, according to CoinMarketCap. The price has since pulled back and sits at about $5 today.

Tools for Humanity didn’t respond to questions emailed Wednesday about the orb shortage. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

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