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#93 – An orb by any other shape…

description: The IT-O interrogator droid from the Star Wars universe.  Source: Wookieepedia on Fandom.

(This is not the Worldcoin Orb, but you’d forgive me for confusing the two. Source: Wookieepedia on Fandom)

Vision and eyes

Apple Vision Pro’s headset landed this past Friday. When I compare the pre-launch commentary to that from Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I … don’t see much of a difference? Aside from the occasional teardown video – which requires retail access to a device, plus a willingness to sacrifice $3,500 For Science™ – people have been cranking out Vision Pro think-pieces for a while now.

One popular topic involves the first-day app ecosystem. Netflix and YouTube? No. The Microsoft 365 tools? Yes. Doing spreadsheets and e-mail from a screen that’s strapped to my face? Cue the Randy Jackson “that’s gonna a no from me, dawg” meme.

(I recently said that some app devs would hold off on making a Vision-native app due to resource constraints. Netflix has since confirmed that this is the case for them. No mention of whether this is also, as I described it, a “not-so-subtle middle-finger emoji in response to Apple launching its own video streaming service.”)

And then there were the journalists who got an early look. A couple of weeks ago I pointed to Victoria Song’s (The Verge) test run. More recently we have Joanna Stern’s (WSJ) take. She wore the thing for a whole day, testing its internal screens as well as its outward-facing cameras. Apparently, the Vision Pro is not a bad cooking companion.

While reading Stern’s piece I couldn’t help but to think: “yeh but isn’t this just what we already do with phones and tablets? Check e-mail and watch movies?”

I had to remind myself that every new technology starts as a clumsy approach to the familiar, and we find the tech- or device-specific use cases over time. I’m not sure what those use cases will be for AR/VR headsets. But I’m confident they’ll come about. Just as confident as I am that they will seem so obvious in hindsight.

Shiny and new

Apple’s not the only company talking about new devices. (Yes, I almost wrote “turning heads” but had to change it to “talking about.” No unintentional puns in this newsletter.) There’s also Worldcoin.

Long-time readers will remember last year’s back-to-back(-to-back-to-back) Worldcoin coverage. For the newer folks, here’s the gist:

  • Worldcoin is a crypto project that aims to create unique identifiers for people.
  • They generate that ID, in part, by scanning your iris.
  • The scanners are, somewhat ominously, called The Orb.

That Orb is getting a makeover:

The next Orb will roll out the first half of this year and will have alternative colors and form factors in an effort to look “much more friendly,” [Wordcoin CEO Alex] Blania shared. Overall, it is going to look “way [more] tuned down” and similar to “an Apple product,” he added.

Hmmm.

Worldcoin’s … “issues”

Maybe that’s just me, but … I don’t think the device’s shape was the problem?

Most concerns about the project boiled down to: “hey Worldcoin wants to scan my eyeballs. Should I be OK with that? I’m not sure I’m OK with that.” Plus a little bit of “Do we really need unique identifiers for every person on the planet?”

The argument made in Worldcoin’s favor is that, thanks to rapidly-improving AI, bad actors can use generative technologies to pretend to be someone else. So we need a way to confirm that a person is exactly who they claim to be. And not some AI.

The counterargument is … Well, let’s remember that Worldcoin co-founder Sam Altman is also in charge of a company that is […checks notes…] at least partially responsible for the last 18 months’ steep increase in generative AI capabilities and hype. So one might say that he’s creating both sides of a market that probably didn’t need to exist in the first place.

There are also concerns about the state of security in Worldcoin. Do the founders seem like smart folks? Sure, I guess. Did the tech kinda-sorta pass muster with at least one well-known cryptographer last September? Sure. But security is a moving target. Even if some app, or service, or database is impenetrable today – and that’s rarely the case – it might not be tomorrow.

Then there’s the bit where Worldcoin earned unwanted government attention in (at least) five countries. That list includes Kenya, where it is rumored that some of the people signing up were not fully aware of the project’s intent.

(While I can’t speak to that, I can point out that most of the mainstream-media rage over Worldcoin kicked off … after it was released into this one wealthy western nation nation called “The United States.” Take that for what it’s worth.)

Oh yes, and the CEO once hinted that something that sounded a little too close to price manipulation in the underlying Worldcoin crypto tokens.

With all that, Worldcoin’s latest move is to … give the Orb a facelift?

Back to the device

I get it. The Orb could stand to look a little less I’m Very Obviously A Nasty Device From Some Dystopian Cyberpunk Novel And Also A Close Cousin Of That Floating Interrogation Droid From The Star Wars Universe. You bet.

But when I think about things Worldcoin could do to boost the public’s confidence in the project, well, the device shape was pretty low on my list.

In other news …

The wrap-up

This was an issue of Block & Mortar.

Who’s behind Block & Mortar? I'm Q McCallum. I've spent the past two decades in the emerging-tech space. And I'm very interested in web3 use cases.

Credit where it's due. Big thanks to Shane Glynn for reviewing early drafts. Any mistakes that remain are mine.

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