DECaDE: Centre for the Decentralized Digital Economy

In today’s Decentralised Digital Economy (DDE) everyone has the opportunity to be both a producer and consumer of goods and services. For example, I could hire or drive a rideshare, rent or host my apartment, watch a video blog or monetize my own.

But these dynamic, peer to peer markets are all underpinned by centralised digital platforms. Users rarely have a say in their governance decisions, which often made in isolation from the global impacts they have on the society.

Launched in October 2020, DECaDE is a 5 year National Research Centre exploring how emerging data technologies such as Distributed Ledger Technology (aka `Blockchain’) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) could transform our digital economy through decentralized platforms.

DECaDE’s mission is to accelerate research in DLT, 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.

We are focusing on three core research themes:

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 Decentralized 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.