- Ethereum’s community is vigorously exploring biometric proof of personhood solutions like Worldcoin to validate unique human users while protecting identity.
- The revolutionary technology comes with potential challenges, including privacy and security concerns, and centralization issues.
As a blockchain connoisseur, I have observed the Ethereum community diving deep into the concept of biometric proof of personhood. The objective of this pursuit is the creation of an ecosystem where every account is associated with a unique human user, securing privacy and protecting their identity. This challenge, known as the ‘unique-human problem’, is witnessing a plethora of innovative solutions, such as Proof of Humanity, BrightID, Idena, and Circles.
What do I think about biometric proof of personhood?https://t.co/yozo1buW24
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) July 24, 2023
Introducing Worldcoin: An Ambitious Approach to the Unique-Human Problem
Worldcoin is the latest entrant in this evolving domain. A brainchild of Sam Altman, the former CEO of OpenAI, Worldcoin strives to counterbalance job obsolescence due to AI-driven wealth generation by providing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to every human. It employs a novel method for proof-of-personhood, using an orb-shaped device to scan users’ irises, ensuring a real human behind every account.
The Orb, integral to Worldcoin’s mission, aspires to create a massive, decentralized identification network. Initially, it achieves technical decentralization by becoming an Ethereum L2 via the Optimism stack and employs cryptographic methods to safeguard user privacy. Eventually, Worldcoin aims to decentralize its governance. However, these ambitions are not without hurdles, with the project encountering critique over the Orb’s security, privacy, ethical dilemmas, and coin design.
The essence of proof of personhood lies in the public key list, owned by unique humans, that mitigates spam and power concentration challenges. However, the balance between identity validation and privacy is often precarious. Current government-backed identity systems compromise privacy, making these decentralized systems, such as Worldcoin, attractive yet risky alternatives.
The Potential and Perils of Biometric Proof of Personhood
Worldcoin adopts an application-based model where users generate a private and public key, verified by an Orb scanning their iris. Despite being an innovative approach, it has attracted concerns around privacy, accessibility, and centralization. Trusting orb manufacturers to avoid secret backdoors is one such concern.
The possibility of public iris scan registries raises another privacy alarm. Worldcoin addresses this by only publishing a specialized hash of each iris scan, not the actual scan. While this is a relatively privacy-preserving method, potential abuse opportunities and accidental medical data leakage remain concerns.
Increasing the accuracy of the iris hashing algorithm and storing the iris hash database within a multi-party computation system are possible solutions to these challenges. However, the increased complexity in protocol and social management are undeniable downsides.
One often overlooks that accessibility to specialized hardware is a significant challenge in biometric proof-of-personhood systems. Although smartphones are globally prevalent, Orb availability remains scarce. Worldcoin and its affiliate, Tools for Humanity, aim to mitigate this by making the Orb’s source code public and promoting other organizations to manufacture Orbs, gradually transitioning to a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to oversee the process.
However, centralization concerns still loom. From governance to hardware, potential centralization risks need addressing. If, for instance, one manufacturer monopolizes Orb production, or secure distributed manufacturing proves unfeasible, the goal of decentralization will be jeopardized.
Ultimately, biometric proof-of-personhood systems, despite presenting a “dystopian” facade, potentially offer robust privacy protection. However, the challenges of privacy, accessibility, and centralization are sizable hurdles to overcome in our relentless pursuit of a decentralized and secure digital identity.
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