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Centre for the Decentralised Digital Economy (DECaDE)

DECaDE’s mission is to accelerate research in Distributed Ledger Technology (aka `Blockchain’), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Human Data Interaction (HDI), working with industry and end-users to create the tools and techniques that will shape the evolution of the digital economy toward a new 21st century model of work and value creation, ensuring a prosperous, safe, and inclusive society for all.

Timelapse of Tokyo at night

Launched in October 2020, DECaDE is a 5-year National Research Centre exploring how emerging data technologies could transform our digital economy through decentralised platforms.

DECaDE is a partnership between the University of Surrey as lead institution, the Centre for Design Informatics and Edinburgh Law School at the University of Edinburgh, and the Digital Catapult.

Prof Burkhard Schafer, Professor of Computational Legal Theory at Edinburgh Law School, leads one of the research strands of DECADE, exploring the issues of  governance and regulation in the decentralised digital economy.

Law has always favoured hierarchical structures with clear choke points to get regulatory traction. Decentralised systems pose a number of unique challenges for the law, but also allow us to think about regulation in new ways.

Prof Schafer's research seeks to answer pressing questions about this new economy, including:

  • How can we involve users more meaningfully in the governance of these systems?
  • How can we protect worker’s rights in the decentralised economy, how does collective action look like in this world?
  • What role does the law play to facilitate new forms of artistic co-creation in these networks?

The next years will see crucial design decisions being made in buildings these infrastructures, and the project aims to ensure that they are fit for building a more just, sustainable and fair economy.

DECaDE is a partnership between the University of Surrey, University of Edinburgh, and the Digital Catapult.

It builds upon world-leading expertise at the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) within Surrey’s Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP). These technical capabilities fuse with expertise in socio-economic modelling and digital business transformation within Surrey Business School’s Centre for Digital Economy (CoDE), and people-centric security and trusted systems within the Surrey Centre for Cybersecurity (SCCS). Edinburgh brings world-class human factors and design expertise via Centre for Design Informatics (CDI). DECaDE incorporates SCRIPT within Edinburgh Law School; an AHRC law and technology research centre focusing on the relationship between law, technology, commerce and society. Co-creation is driven through the Digital Catapult via both its DLT Field Labs and machine intelligence garage engaging diverse private and public sector end-users.

DECaDE is one of six research centres across the UK announced as part of a £29 million investment by UK Research and Innovation.

Learn more about DECaDE

Creative Economy

DECaDE focuses on the decentralised Creative industries as a case area for value co-creation in the DDE, where a shift from centralised content distributors (broadcasters) to decentralised platforms promise radical new business models that redefine how value is derived from digital content. Pricing and redistribution rights need no longer be defined by centralised publishers, but as part of an open market making micro-payments to content creators. AI technologies also bring new opportunities to radically redefine concepts such as ownership, content privacy e.g. who or what is in the video, what can be seen and heard, and how that influences redistribution rights. Emerging technologies also bring risk; AI can now create misleading ‘deepfake’ videos from a single photograph – what does this mean for the integrity of user-generated content that might be used in broadcast, or journalistic content disseminated in social platforms? We must design new socio-technical solutions to ensure these new models for content provenance and redistribution rights brought by technical innovations are communicated, and inclusive ensuring all creatives benefit from this emerging economy.

Data Trusts: Identity and Data in the DDE

Society has already begun to push back on organisations that silo and extract value from the deluge of our personal data. The solution is not necessarily to put up walls or locally silo / isolate data, but to enhance data fluidity so it moves dynamically with granular access control, generating value for its owners.

DECaDE will empower users to identify areas of potential value in their personal data, and explore novel models for releasing that value through decentralised technologies in where users exercise greater agency over its use through novel economic and governance models. For example, the concept of ‘Data Trusts’ is emerging in which third parties commoditize users’ data for them. What would a decentralized data trust look like? What other kinds of value could be extract from data, in new ways? For example, we will explore how the provenance of data used to train an AI model might be used to define shared ownership (digital equity) of that model when commoditised. We will explore training of AI models on individuals’ data in a privacy preserving manner through decentralised and federated machine learning – a kind of distributed computing. We will draw upon our partner expertise to understand the implications of GDPR in this context.

Working in the Decentralised Economy

The DDE has contributed to the emergence of the gig economy. Evident in lower-paid sectors such as delivery or transport, and increasingly in professional services such as the creative and healthcare sectors it may become unusual to work for single, monolithic organisation. Rather, work records and thus career will be reflected in a portfolio of engagements with multiple employing entities, often mediated via online platforms where employer and employee may not physically meet. The shift in employment norms challenge definitions of trust, and in a gig economy the value (fairness, worth/compensation) of work and as such and the values work represents in future society. Where reputation weighs heavily on an individual’s record, the absence of trusted centralised organisation will create a social and technical challenge, requiring the development and adoption/governance of a technical solution (RC4) and layered onto that appropriate models for decentralised governance including ways to evolve that governance model by consensus, and to penalise unfair behaviour on the platform. It will be necessary to design such platforms to be inclusive across society and to tackle digital literacy particularly around decentralised technologies and their inherent trust attributes.