Cambridge, United States – August 6, 2014: People are seen meandering about the entrance to Building 10 on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the Great Dome sitting atop the structure. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university that was founded in 1861 and the lawn in front of Building 10, known as Killian Court, is used annually for the school’s commencement ceremony.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has begun a pilot program to test the benefits and challenges of using the bitcoin blockchain to issue diplomas.

AS MIT News reports, the pilot program began this summer and provided 111 MIT graduates with the option to receive their diplomas through a blockchain-reliant smartphone app called Blockcerts Wallet, in addition to the traditional hard-copy format.

The Blockcerts app, which was developed by the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Cambridge software company Learning Machine, generates a public-private key pair after a student downloads it and registers for the program. The app then sends the public key to MIT, who writes it into the digital record and adds a one-way hash to the bitcoin blockchain. The app stores the user’s private key, enabling him or her to prove ownership of the diploma.

The school says “empower[s] students to be the curators of their own credentials”:

“From the beginning, one of our primary motivations has been to empower students to be the curators of their own credentials,” says MIT Registrar and Senior Associate Dean Mary Callahan. “This pilot makes it possible for them to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose.”

Learning Machine chief executive Chris Jagers stresses that the program is not a mere novelty. When academic institutions shut down, it often proves to be a tremendous hassle for their former students to access their records. While the prestigious MIT is unlikely to close down anytime soon, the program can be replicated at other schools and universities.

“MIT has issued official records in a format that can exist even if the institution goes away, even if we go away as a vendor,” Jagers says. “People can own and use their official records, which is a fundamental shift.”

He adds that blockchain-based applications could “create a whole new reality” for information management and verification.

“It’s not just about solving a problem,” Jagers concludes. “It really is transformative. And it could be as big as the web, because it affects every sector. It’s not just academic records. It’s being able to passively know that digital things are true. That creates a whole new reality across every sector.”

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