Does Bitcoin’s Underlying Technology Have Other Uses?

Anyone interested in modern technology has heard of the digital currency called bitcoin, even if few people understand how it works.

Don't worry. Credit cards and cash will remain the common currency for some time to come.

But as bitcoin and other digital currencies evolve, the technology that underlies them may soon spread into other transactions: trading stock, buying and selling real estate, purchasing music and much more.

A mini-industry is forming to take advantage of the technology called blockchain, aiming to make a wide variety of transactions faster, cheaper and more secure.

The idea is to remove, as much as is practical, people and their bureaucracies from the transference of money, contracts and other data where tracking ownership is important.

The several days it takes for a $40,000 payment to clear a bank, for example, could be cut to 10 minutes by relying on blockchain's specialized, ostensibly highly secure computer networks. Bitcoin does just that.

"We want to use the Internet to move things around because it's fast, low-cost and transparent," said Adam Ludwin, chief executive of bitcoin start-up Chain Inc.

Bitcoin-related start-ups raised $375 million in the first half of 2015, or about 11% more than they did in all of 2014, investment tracking firm CB Insights said last week. The number of investments rose 63% compared with last year's first six months.

Several venture funds are popping up to focus on alternative uses for blockchain. Big players including the Nasdaq stock market and Goldman Sachs, both of which engage in an unfathomable number of transactions each day, are investing in blockchain experiments. Goldman Sachs funded a start-up using blockchain to track and protect U.S. dollars, not bitcoins. And Nasdaq is working with Chain to build a blockchain-based marketplace for shares in privately held companies.

Blockchain start-ups include Ambisafe Inc., engaged in projects such as a tamper-proof...

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