After CryptoWatt Mining LLC turned on its first servers in the MSE complex south of Butte, there has been a lot of talk about what bitcoin might mean for the Mining City.
However, some folks in the technology sector say the greatest asset in the bitcoin phenomenon isn’t the cryptocurrency itself. Instead, it’s the underlying technology supporting it called blockchain.
Phillip Curtiss, assistant professor of computer science at Montana Tech, says he’s been educating students on blockchain since 2016. The decision to add the technology to the curriculum, Curtiss said, came from a desire to keep students up to date with emerging technologies. Plus, it’s a great way to keep students engaged. Incidentally, a few of his students have gone on to apply the technology outside the classroom, setting up their own mines or dabbling in cryptocurrency exchange.
Since then, a plethora of new applications of blockchain have emerged and have involved some pretty notable players — like IBM, which recently came out with a platform that allows developers to harness the technology. Kodak has also recently come out with a blockchain-based initiative that the company hopes will protect the copyright of images.
Curtiss says no matter the application of blockchain, all of them have one overarching purpose: removing the middleman from transactions.
Let’s say you pay for a pizza with your credit card. Unlike a cash transaction, where only you and the pizza driver are involved, a validation and verification process takes place involving your bank, the pizza parlor’s bank, and a third party that processes the transaction.
In blockchain, validation and verification still happen, but instead of a centralized third party handling the job, verification and validation happen on a network of computers called nodes.
“The fundamental big idea here is to get rid of the third party validation and verification and instead use the network as an entity to do that process,” Curtiss said.
Huang has launched several tech-based businesses over the course of her career, and she and her husband Mike Williams are currently in the process of launching a coding immersion program in the Treasure State called Montana Powered. In addition, the part-time Butte resident is hoping to use blockchain technology to create a new app for the construction and real-estate industries.
Certain nodes in the peer-to-peer network are designated as mining nodes. Those nodes can claim the un-validated transaction and can then work on trying to find, or "mine," the key that fits the transaction. Finding the key validates the transaction and allows the nodes to link the transaction to the other validated transactions in the ledger chain. Mining nodes that are successful at finding the appropriate key are awarded cryptocurrency. This is similar to a fee that a credit card processing company might charge.
With blockchain in the picture, this could soon be possible, and it would mean that all parties could get paid instantly at the point of sale. It could also mean shop owners wouldn’t have to worry about their money getting tied up in inventory, and suppliers wouldn’t have to worry whether retailers will be able to pay their bills on time.