Make Money Moves: Blockchain at Dartmouth

by Zachary Gorman | 1/9/19 2:20am

In an era filled with technological marvels and novelties, it can be difficult to figure out which innovations are fads and which will become ubiquitous. While it is unclear whether cryptocurrencies will change the way everyone pays for goods and services, the technology has certainly garnered significant attention. Cryptocurrencies, digital currencies such as Bitcoin that can be used to securely transfer money online, have dedicated groups of enthusiasts and investors who are interested in the future of the technology — and, in many cases, making money off of it. In 2017, cryptocurrency enthusiasts on campus created Dartmouth’s own Crypto Club, now known as Blockchain at Dartmouth.

Luke Bienstock ’20, the president of the club, believes that this type of club could help Dartmouth be a leader in innovation for cryptocurrency and related technology.

“Schools like [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and [the California Institute of Technology] … definitely lead and dominate the field,” Bienstock said. “But because it’s such a new industry and technology, this is definitely a field where at a school like Dartmouth, if attention, time and resources are put into it … can catch up.”

One of the notable quirks of the cryptocurrency market is its extreme volatility. Bienstock noticed that the club peaked in popularity when Bitcoin reached its highest market value.

“There definitely was a big correlation, at least at first, between the attendance of the club and the price of Bitcoin,” Bienstock said. “In early 2018, there were tons of people coming to meetings, more than I would have ever expected, for what used to be an obscure currency and obscure technology.”

Soon afterward, however, most cryptocurrencies experienced an extreme drop in value. For example, the price of one Bitcoin fell from roughly $17,000 in December 2017 to $4,000 in January 2019. In Bienstock’s mind, this somewhat changed the composition of the club — and shifted the discussion toward blockchain, the technology that allows for cryptocurrencies to exist.

“[Some] people got into it at first because it was a sort of get-rich-quick type scheme, but the people who stayed were the people who are really interested in blockchain technology,” Bienstock said.

Blockchains are a kind of technology that allow cryptocurrencies — and other information — to be securely shared between users online. This eliminates the need for third parties who would traditionally be necessary for such transfers. Though blockchain technology is important for cryptocurrencies because it eliminates the role of banks in cryptocurrency transactions, it holds just as great significance for other fields. Patrick Maher ’21, the acting president of the club this term, believes that the healthcare industry is one place that blockchain technology could have a massive impact.

As an example, Maher pointed to health records, which may be inconveniently located in different databases and difficult to reach without going through a bureaucratic process. 

“With blockchain, you can place everybody’s medical records on there,” Maher said. “They’ll be secure and no one can access them unless they’re supposed to. It would make the whole health system much more efficient with lower costs, and ultimately [it will] deliver better healthcare for patients.”

In a general sense, most digital information that requires a secure transfer could use blockchain technology. Aaron Flores ’21, the treasurer of the club, believes that businesses will eventually realize this and use the technology to their benefit.

“I think it’s going to be integrated into business in a trust sense,” Flores said. “So any business document that is going to be confidential is going to be on the blockchain just to make sure it’s actually legit. And I think anything to do with trust going into the

future is probably going to be on the blockchain.”

While Bienstock doesn’t necessarily think blockchain will change the world to the same degree Flores does, he does think the technology will have a tremendous impact on society, just as Cloud technology has. 

Maher says he was impressed with Crypto Club’s focus on blockchain technology even when the cryptocurrency craze was in full swing. Maher himself became interested in cryptocurrency around the “crypto boom” of 2017, and added cypto to the traditional list of things he had invested in, such as stocks, bonds and commodities. After doing some research, he learned what blockchain technology really was and joined the then-Crypto Club to learn more. 

“The guys were all really informative about what it was, and they took it a step further,” Maher said. “Rather than talking about the wild price movements of the time, they would really analyze the big players in the crypto and blockchain space.” 

The enthusiasm for blockchain technology eventually led the club to change its name to Blockchain at Dartmouth. Maher and other members have also pushed to move the club’s attention away from cryptocurrency and toward applications of blockchain in general.

“We get a lot of kids who come in because they know about cryptocurrencies and the amount of money that people make on them,” Maher said. “But we instantly shift the narrative to learn what blockchain actually is. Don’t pretend like you know just because you made some money on the [cryptocurrency] trade. We really want to educate kids about the actual technology itself.”

While Blockchain at Dartmouth has begun to focus less on cryptocurrency in specific, there is no denying that the future of cryptocurrency is still of interest to the members of the club. Though Bienstock and Maher are both somewhat doubtful of the idea that cryptocurrency will ever gain massive popularity, Flores believes that it could still have a significant impact, as it is an incredibly multifaceted technology that has the potential to be slowly integrated into our economy. 

“It’s following a very similar cycle that the Internet did,” Flores said. “There was a huge bubble, then it crashed, but the infrastructure was still there. And [the Internet] slowly started being introduced, and now everybody uses it. I think [cryptocurrency] will follow something similar.”