IT HAS been a rocky year for Bitcoin, the online peer-to-peer currency, with the exchange rate soaring from a few cents to over $30 per coin before crashing after a string of thefts, hacks and other setbacks. Coins have since regained a value of around $5. But it is becoming clear that the software could prove at least as useful as the currency itself, underpinning a number of important new technologies.

First, it could be used as a form of “carbon dating” for digital information – something that would make electronic voting more secure. This is possible because of the way Bitcoin records transactions, says Jeremy Clark, a computer scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.