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Iowans on cutting edge of blockchain revolution

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Blockchain will change the world, as long as the government doesn’t mess it up first.



The technology burst into public awareness last year with the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Yet blockchain offers more than just digital currencies, and it could revolutionize the way government and business work.



The value of Bitcoin surged from around $1,000 to nearly $20,000 over the course of 12 months, creating a new class of young millionaires and drawing attention from traditional investors.



Still, the greatest potential of blockchain is not necessarily investment. This little-understood technology could impact every part of our lives.



Think of blockchain as a magic ledger, stored in thousands of places and open to anyone to view, but still keeping users’ information private.



Most important, blockchain cuts out middlemen. Transactions which have usually required a third-party moderator can now use blockchain, potentially providing significant cost-savings, better security and greater privacy.



The potential uses for blockchain may be infinite, and several people with Iowa connections are on the front lines of the impending blockchain renaissance.



University of Iowa student Cameron Schorg created a primitive Bitcoin exchange in 2013, which faltered because he couldn’t find a cooperative payment processor. He has since become a successful Bitcoin investor and self-described evangelist for the technology.



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Jessica VerSteeg, who was Miss Iowa 2014, helped launched a network last year to bolster blockchain in the cannabis industry. The organization, Paragon, introduced its own cryptocurrency, which could be used between marijuana businesses, which are often shunned by traditional financial institutions.



Iowa State University student Brendon Geils is helping build a system for trading surplus renewable energy. The Open Energy network allows renewable electricity producers to buy and sell unused energy, without corporate utilities setting prices.



It’s obvious blockchain has the potential to massively disrupt conventional government and corporate duties. But as they usually do with such things, governments around the world are rushing to put their regulatory mark on blockchain.



U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton issued a lengthy statement this past December, setting the stage for government intervention in cryptocurrency markets. He wrote “there is substantially less investor protection than in our traditional securities markets, with correspondingly greater opportunities for fraud and manipulation.”



Scare tactics like those are typical of government leaders responding to technologies they don’t understand. While there are examples of fraud and theft in cryptocurrencies, it is not clear those threats are greater than in traditional financial industries.



Despite growing calls for regulation, blockchain enthusiasts remain bullish.



Schorg, the local Bitcoin businessman, recently told me, “The cool thing about Bitcoin is, we’re not asking for permission.”



• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com



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