Worldcoin: Sam Altman's controversial crypto project starts in Germany - a site visit in Berlin

The small stand almost goes under between books and cosmetics.

Worldcoin: Sam Altman's controversial crypto project starts in Germany - a site visit in Berlin

The small stand almost goes under between books and cosmetics. The great story of a still young company is to begin here in the Berlin shopping center Alexa. "Do you know ChatGPT?" asks the employee at the stand. Two wondrous balls are set up behind him. And a sign that reads "The global economy belongs to everyone." In the very corner is the company name: "Worldcoin". A group of five boys jostle in front of the stand.

The two bullets are the work of Sam Altman. The founder, who runs OpenAI, the hottest start-up in the world at the moment, has triggered a global hype about artificial intelligence and the ChatGPT system. But at the same time he is working with the German founder Alex Blania on another project called Worldcoin.

Altman is also pursuing a big plan with the crypto start-up: The company should solve the identity problem on the Internet. Users should be able to prove that they are human – without having to provide a name. The start-up plans to reach one billion people in the next two years. Just a few weeks ago, the global investor elite, including Andreessen Horowitz, invested a total of 100 million dollars in the start-up.

But the way to achieve the company's goal is quite controversial. The word "dystopian" is often used when talking about Worldcoin. The company scans people's irises with the balls they developed themselves, so-called orbs. The recording should be even more precise than a fingerprint, in this way it should be possible to determine the unique identity of a person. The data for this is stored on the blockchain.

The first boys put their face in front of the ball - as a reward, there has been a "Worldcoin" in the app every week so far. The exchange rate of the currency is still unclear. According to the app, almost two million people have identified themselves, and the company started with its wallet in about eight African countries. The start-up has now expanded to Germany and Poland. There is even an office in Erlangen.

There will probably not be a rush in Berlin, because the functions of Worldcoin are still limited. In the app you can buy and sell cryptocurrencies, as well as collect your Worldcoin. The company is already integrated with the identification service Okta. "Especially in networks with many bots like Twitter, Worldcoin could mean that you can identify yourself as a real person," says crypto investor Julius Nagel, who moderates the podcast "Everything Coin Nothing Must". "You don't have to give your name." Thanks to blockchain storage, you are not dependent on a specific company. Many details are still unclear. So far, there is no white paper that explains how it works.

Against this background, it is questionable whether masses of people can be persuaded to have their irises scanned. "Many people initially had reservations about using their fingerprints with smartphones," says Nagel. It's now common to unlock your phone with your face or finger. "I would still not use Worldcoin at the moment, it remains a queasy feeling."

The start-up tries to allay the concerns. According to company documents, the iris photo is converted using "complex algorithms" into a numerical representation, which the company stores and uses to compare identities - the company calls the iris code "derivation". It goes on to say, "It is not possible to fully convert the derivatives into the original image." The images themselves would only be stored locally in the sphere. However, there is another setting. Those who agree to "data retention" allow the company to use the photos "to improve our algorithm". Many people may not be aware of this difference.

The group of youngsters in Alexa doesn't seem to think too much about it. One impatiently asks, "How do I get the cryptocurrency?"

This article was published by our colleagues from "Capital"