“I’ve been very interested in things like universal basic income and what’s going to happen to global wealth redistribution and how we can do that better. Is there a way we can use technology to do that at a global scale?”Sam Altman
Looks like Sam Altman has found the answer to his question. His new startup has plans to distribute free cryptocurrency to people all over the world. The former head of Y Combinator and co-founder of OpenAI is also one of three founders of Worldcoin. The San Francisco based company is working on “a new global digital currency that will debut by giving a share to every single person on earth.”
Tech moguls including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos have thrown their weight behind Universal Basic Income (UBI). Altman seeks to invest his optimism for an AI revolution, where all people will have access to his crypto money in a permissionless blockchain.
Worldcoin has designed an orb-like device to scan an individual’s iris, creating a unique identification. The dedicated hardware will ensure unique personal identifiers, after which the person will be entitled to some amount in crypto. The device is a silver-coloured spherical gizmo, no bigger than a basketball.
According to Worldcoin, currently 20 devices are being tested in some cities on a small scale. Each device costs $5000. The currency Altman proposes, however, is not ready for distribution yet and therefore, initial volunteers are being offered other currencies, mostly Bitcoin, for having their eyes scanned.
Worldcoin builds on Altman’s views on AI’s power to deliver UBI. However, a lot of people take a dim view of Altman’s vision. The Silicon Valley’s UBI concept is predicated upon the premise that the AI would eventually take over most of the manual jobs. However, critics argued that we are nowhere close to Artificial General Intelligence or Superintelligence, and the jobs are not under threat.
A case for Universal Basic Income
“Universal income will be necessary over time if AI takes over most human jobs.”Elon Musk
Many tech elites are pushing the case for a Universal Basic Income and have become its most prominent proponents. The idea appeals to the Valley’s desire to solve everything with elegant algorithms. The tech world maintains that people should not be wary of robots taking their jobs. Everyone would be able to reap the fruits of complete control over technology, providing dignity for all, the thinking goes.
“50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used the fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people”
Altman’s Y Combinator began a five-year experiment in 2017 with 1,000 people being provided $1,000 per month and 2,000 people $500 a month. The experiment aims to assess changes in the labour force and quality of life.
The experiment sought to answer questions including: “Do people sit around and play video games, or do they create new things? Are people happy and fulfilled? Do people, without the fear of not being able to eat, accomplish far more and benefit society far more? And do recipients, on the whole, create more economic value than they receive?”
Meanwhile, a few dissenting voices have tabbed universal basic income as a small mercy. This camp upholds that UBI is a cheap compensation for people whose lives have been disrupted by technology. Silicon Valley sees UBI as a buffer to protect their vested interests, and keep the unwashed masses on a retainer, the theory goes. However, the realities of UBI haven’t been tested or tried in a real world setting at scale.
As soon as the story started circulating, a lot of people started pointing to the privacy aspects of the iris scanning policy, an essential biometric. Worldcoin contends that the scan is important for security reasons. It prevents people from registering multiple times with only one registration per person. The company claimed the scan which produces a unique numerical code will delete the image after the code is generated.
“If I were trying to be a supervillian, I would come up with a much better plan than iris scanning,” Altman said.
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I am a literature, media and psychology grad which explains much of my confusion in life. I like writing, especially about music. You'll find me clicking photographs and playing music on my guitar most of the time!