If Worldcoin can revolutionize the world, why not embrace it?
The launch of Worldcoin’s “World ID” system on July 24 has garnered widespread attention and sparked a flurry of conversations. However, along with the excitement, there have been concerns raised about potential security risks and the use of biometric data. Governments in various countries, including the United Kingdom, France, and Argentina, are currently investigating these issues.
In the fast-paced tech industry, tensions often arise between innovation and ethical considerations. As technologies like machine learning, facial recognition, and big data analytics continue to advance, so do the ethical stakes involved. External criticism, whether from analysts, journalists, or ethicists, can play a pivotal role in shaping the course of innovation. It can either encourage companies to address ethical concerns or contribute to a backlash that stifles innovation and leads to increased regulation.
Instead of solely scrutinizing the merits of Worldcoin, it is essential to recognize that excessive criticism can hinder technological advancement. Worldcoin aims to tackle the digital identity problem by bypassing governments. An interoperable and accessible digital identity solution would alleviate concerns about losing personal documents or facing difficulties due to changes within one’s home country.
Having previously collaborated with the United Nations on distributed digital identity solutions, I am aware of the significant potential such a system holds. It can combat corruption, prevent identity theft, reduce fraud, and safeguard citizens against censorship. For individuals receiving support from supranational organizations, a digital identity that never expires and can be accessed globally can be lifesaving.
One of the driving arguments in favor of this system lies in the fact that while individual governments may handle identity matters efficiently, there is currently no seamless global identity system. Moreover, no significant progress has been made by any consortium of governments to address this issue using technology. Worldcoin saw a private-sector opportunity to fill this gap – however, being the first mover comes with its share of challenges.
Another project that faced similar scrutiny as a first mover in the Web3 space was Libra. Although Libra aimed to provide stable money as a public service, it bypassed central banks, leading to intense scrutiny and ultimately its disbandment. Nevertheless, the minds behind Libra have continued their quest to solve the same problem in different ways at other companies, albeit with certain modifications.
While progress may have shifted due to these developments, it is evident that the need for stable and accessible payment rails remains unfulfilled. The criticism directed toward Libra influenced the perception of stablecoins, impacting the ecosystem even today.
Considering the relentless criticism faced by Worldcoin, there is a risk that it may suffer a fate similar to Libra. If Worldcoin fails, it will not solely be due to any missteps by its founders. The project is attempting to build something unprecedented, which opens the door for an all-encompassing attack on the entire technology stack required for digital identity – a stack that is crucial if we desire secure digital identities in our lifetimes.
While my perspective may seem slightly pessimistic, I am confident that even if Worldcoin does not succeed, progress will still be made in the area of digital identity. However, the fear and suspicion surrounding such initiatives will not dissipate quickly, potentially hindering adoption among the communities that need digital identity the most.
There is a rising trend of private sector technologies aiming to replace public services. The perception of this choice varies depending on how well one’s government functions. It is important to acknowledge that the private sector often excels at problem-solving, particularly when it comes to efficiently implementing new technologies.
No, a private company should not hold complete control over identity. Nonetheless, if a company has invested in the necessary infrastructure and technology, it would be prudent to build upon those efforts. Worldcoin has achieved groundbreaking innovations in ID management, storage, and processing. By fostering an “open innovation model,” we could leverage this work to improve various global systems, such as global voting. Despite facing global challenges like climate change, governance mechanisms for critical systems like voting remain largely localized.
Changing foundational systems such as voting requires a shift in mindset regarding how we perceive, use, and trust our systems. Many of us embarked on this journey when we first encountered blockchain in 2009 and pondered how our society would evolve in a post-centralized world. Now, we face a similar question: How will our society transform in a post-proof world? How can we operate in a system where we can verify the existence of proof even when we do not have direct access to it?
This is the discussion we must engage in when it comes to Worldcoin – less about the company and its founders, and more about the system it aims to build. Worldcoin is not the final ambitious project that seeks to address the fragmented systems we navigate. Other projects will follow suit, and we should pose the same critical questions to them: How do you prioritize privacy? How do you incentivize users without exploiting their economic circumstances? What governance mechanisms do you have in place, and how robust are they? Why should we choose your solution, and how does your business model benefit if we do? What positive or negative impact will you have on our world, and what oversight measures should be implemented?
We must be prepared to pose these questions to Worldcoin and future projects. We should envision a future where either Worldcoin or another company successfully implements this system.
While it is easy to attack Worldcoin, we should bear in mind that certain authorities – particularly those with a vested interest in withholding digital identity from their citizens – may feel threatened by the borderless nature of this initiative. Not every critic of Worldcoin aims to improve it. It is time to think bigger. If we are to build this system and embrace a post-proof world, let us build it better now.
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