Scanning humanity’s eyeballs in exchange for cryptocurrency and assigning the encoded results to a blockchain is the kind of dystopian idea that might have stoked a speculative boom during the pandemic, before eventually crashing to Earth and leaving a trail of angry investors behind.

But with interest in artificial intelligence reaching fever pitch, this risky solution to proving personhood in the digital world is gaining new impetus.

Worldcoin, backed by luminaries including Marc Andreessen and Sam Bankman-Fried, began as a way to create a valuable token by giving it away to people willing to identify themselves via their biometric data. What the project euphemistically dubs its "field test” phase involved scanning half a million irises using a chrome sphere dubbed "the orb” — prompting myriad accounts of exploitation, invasion of privacy, deception and attempted fraud. The story might have ended there.