OpenAI boss Sam Altman is close to securing around $100mn in funding for his plan to use iris-scanning technology to create a secure global cryptocurrency called Worldcoin, in what would be a rare bright spot for a sector which has endured a bleak year.
According to three people with knowledge of the deal, Worldcoin is in advanced talks to raise the fresh cash as it prepares to launch in the next few weeks.
The group includes existing and new investors, said one of the people. Previous investors in the company include Khosla Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto fund, as well as FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried and internet entrepreneur Reid Hoffman.
Worldcoin was founded by Altman and Alex Blania in 2019. The company has kept a low profile relative to OpenAI, the ChatGPT-creator which struck a multibillion-dollar deal with Microsoft earlier this year.
But it nonetheless has grand ambitions, with plans to use eyeball-scanning technology to create a global identification system which could be used to gain free access to its own global currency, Worldcoin.
A $100mn token sale early last year valued the total supply of the company’s tokens at $3bn, according to the Information, a tech-focused publication.
But crypto tokens and projects have since had a bruising 12 months. The collapse of Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange FTX in November last year accelerated the sharp decline in token prices and precipitated a wave of crypto company failures.
FTX was backed by venture capital fund Sequoia Capital, Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global Management and Thoma Bravo. Its implosion, and the scandal around Bankman-Fried, encouraged many blue-chip funds to curtail investment in the sector.
“It’s a bear market, a crypto winter. It’s remarkable for a project in this space to get this amount of investment,” said one of the people with direct knowledge of the fundraising.
Worldcoin executives said their approach tackles two problems raised by the increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence: distinguishing between humans and bots, and providing a form of universal basic income which might offset job losses caused by AI.
Key to the company’s plans is an orb which “uses iris biometrics to establish an individual’s unique personhood, then creates a digital World ID that can be used pseudonymously in a wide variety of everyday applications without revealing the user’s identity,” according to the company.
Once users have established their identity, they can receive free Worldcoin tokens, the company said.
Worldcoin has received criticism on a variety of issues, most notably that the biometric scanning poses privacy risks. A section of its website dedicated to addressing concerns about the orb asserts that the company will not store iris scans and that the device will not hurt users’ eyes.
Having been operating in beta, the company is now gearing up to roll out its blockchain protocol and begin recording transactions in the next six weeks.
Worldcoin declined to comment on the fundraising.