Sam Altman’s role ‘not expected to change’ at eyeball-scanning crypto startup Worldcoin amid OpenAI drama

Sam Altman has dominated the headlines over the past few days, with endless speculation over his next steps after he was ousted as OpenAI CEO on Friday.

But OpenAI isn’t Altman’s only venture. He cofounded the crypto company Worldcoin in 2020 and still serves as chairperson of the startup’s developer, Tools for Humanity.

Amid the drama over Altman’s role at OpenAI, questions have swirled over what his continued involvement would be at Worldcoin, which raised a $115 million funding round in May and launched its token in July.

According to a source close to the matter, Altman’s role at Tools for Humanity is “not expected to change” and he’s had a “consistent and valuable level of engagement,” including providing input on product design, joining all-hands meetings, and appearing at public events such as Token 2049.

Eyeballs and orbs

The world first learned about Worldcoin from a 2021 Bloomberg article, which revealed one of the most ambitious (and strange) companies to come out of Silicon Valley in years.

The concept seemed straight out of a sci-fi movie: Worldcoin would prove a person’s “personhood” by scanning their iris to verify their humanity and reward them with a proprietary crypto token.

The idea is that every unique human can opt into a future “universal basic income” program in which the global population is eligible for regular payments from an as-yet-undetermined organization.

Altman founded the company alongside Max Novendstern, who worked at Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater and the money-transfer startup Wave, and hired the young physics Ph.D. student Alex Blania as the company’s CEO. Altman had previously served as president of the startup accelerator Y Combinator, leaving the organization in 2019.

As Altman’s other startup, the nonprofit OpenAI, progressed with its own projects, Worlcoin’s mission took on new relevance. As Fortune reported in March, Worldcoin began to position its “proof-of-personhood” concept almost as an AI safety check. By verifying people’s humanity, Worldcoin’s system could also ensure that internet users are actual people—and not bots.

Furthermore, with AI presumably overtaking human jobs, Worldcoin’s UBI model also could help “distribute the upside of all this tech for as many people as possible,” according to Blania.

The intersection between Worldcoin and OpenAI has drawn criticism, with Worldcoin seemingly intended to balance out the potential excesses of OpenAI products like ChatGPT.

“One Altman entity manufactures a problem, and the other sells a solution to the problem they manufactured,” said Elizabeth Renieris, a privacy expert and senior research associate at Oxford’s Institute for Ethics in AI.

Worldcoin has also faced regulatory issues, with the token not launching in markets including the U.S., and user onboarding being suspended in Kenya due to the government’s privacy and security concerns.

Altman’s future

Worldcoin is intended to operate as a decentralized protocol, but the project is currently managed by Tools for Humanity, which Altman cofounded. Although he doesn’t have a “day-to-day role,” according to the source, he’s still involved in the project—and associated with its success.

The price of Worldcoin’s token, also called Worldcoin, seesawed alongside the news cycle of Altman’s fate over the weekend, dropping almost 10% after news broke that he had been fired by OpenAI’s board, and then increasing almost 40% as the board considered reinstating him. The price was hovering around $2.40 at the time of publication after plunging under $2 on Friday.

On Worldcoin’s Discord server, users speculated about Altman’s future with the company, as well as his importance to the project.

“I trade WLD just because Sam Altman and OpenAI, this is the only reason why I am trading,” wrote one user. “With Sam Altman resigning, how this project will continue…” wrote another.

Two major venture investors in Worldcoin told Fortune they have not received communication from Tools for Humanity over Altman’s role, indicating that it will be business as usual. David Pakman, a managing partner at the crypto-focused VC firm CoinFund, said Altman is a “critical piece” in Worldcoin’s development.

“I’m glad that he’s going to continue and that this is not a conflict,” Pakman told Fortune. “At least thus far, I’m glad that he’s been, I would say, largely untarnished by this weekend’s episode.”

Pakman added that OpenAI’s rapid collapse over personnel disputes, after reportedly hitting a valuation of around $80 billion, demonstrates the need for decentralized developer platforms like Worldcoin.

Worldcoin reached 4 million users for its app in early November.

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