Next Stage Digital Economy Centre in the Decentralised Digital Economy (DECaDE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Vision Speech and Signal Proc CVSSP


Data-driven innovation is transforming every sector of our digital economy (DE) into a de-centralised marketplace; accommodation (AirBnb), transportation (Uber), logistics (Deliveroo), user-generated vs. broadcast content in the creative industries (YouTube). We are witnessing an inexorable shift from classical models centred upon monolithic institutions, to a dynamic and decentralised economy in which anyone is a potential producer and consumer. A gig economy, underpinned by digital products and services co-created through shorter-lived, diverse peer-to-peer engagements.

Yet, the platforms that enable this DE are increasingly built on centralised architectures. These are not controlled by society, but by large organisations making commercial decisions far from the social contexts they affect. There is an urgent need to disrupt this relationship, to deliver proper governance that empowers society to take control of the DE and enables people to assert greater agency over the vast centralised silos of data that drive these platforms.

We stand on the cusp of a second wave of DE disruption, driven by bleeding edge data-driven technologies (AI) and secure, distributed data sharing infrastructures such as Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT), in which data is no longer siloed but becomes a fluid, de-centralised commodity shifting power away from tech giants to individuals and de-centralised organisations. This future Decentralised Digital Economy (DDE) enables people and organisations to work together, to trade, and ultimately to trust via frictionless digital interactions free from reliance upon centralised third parties, but often with reliance upon autonomous services.

This shift in agency and power is a game changing opportunity for society to take back control over its digital economy - but we have a limited window of opportunity to get it right. We have already witnessed de-centralisation in the financial sector, where the lack of regulation and clear governance of crypto-currencies has proven a double-edged sword, allowing free exchange of value across the globe, but that is coupled with fraudulent company flotations and currency rates rigged by large mining pools. This is a consequence of technology-driven innovation unchecked by socio-economic insight; a lack of knowledge making policy makers impotent in the face of the tech giants. We are now at the tipping point of similar wide-sweeping disruption across all sectors in the DDE, a transformation that will radically redefine our models of value and how it is created, the ways in which we work, and how we use and extract value from our data.

DECaDE represents a critical and timely opportunity to shape this emerging de-centralised digital economy (DDE), to develop insights that define a new 21st century model of work and value creation in the DDE, and ensure a prosperous, safe and inclusive society for all.

DECaDE is a 60 month centre, comprising 21 people and building upon over 8.6 million pounds of feasibility scale UKRI/EPSRC investments in DLT and Human Data Interaction (HDI) held by the proposing team. DECaDE is a three-way partnership between the Universities of Surrey and Edinburgh, and the Digital Catapult DLT Field Labs. The latter is a full member of the consortium, through which we have co-created this research programme and with whom we will engage in further co-creation of the future DDE through diverse end-users in the public and private sector to support the competitive position of the UK

Planned Impact

DECaDE will enhance the competitive position of the UK, working with 34 industry and government end-user partners (match investment 4.1M of total match 6.8M) to deliver a prosperous, safe and inclusive digital economy (DE). DECaDE will deliver long-term horizontal impact across all sectors within the DE, as it transitions to a fully decentralised form in which data becomes a fluid, de-centralised commodity, shifting governance back to society and generating radical new opportunities for working and co-creating value. The Digital Catapult (DC) Field Labs are front and centre of DECaDE as the primary mechanism for co-creating this impact, engaging current (and future) end-users to co-create and translate research within a 'living lab'.

TH1 delivers vertical impact across the key creative industries sectors covering content production: TV broadcast via the BBC, Sony; music via Blokur; video streaming via Youtube. Outcomes include new business models and ways to co-create value from creative content via improved IP attribution, facilitating re-use of content through smart contract enabled micropayments and novel models of content ownership (Audience Strategies, Bristows). DECaDE will develop new ways to protect content though digital provenance, working with key actors in different media forms (Adobe: image/video, Dimension and Insurent: 3D assets/4D Video, Coinmode: virtual assets in video games, BBC/National Archives: cultural heritage). A use case in news integrity will be run with BBC News, leveraging Synthesia video rewrite technology to produce test footage. Exploitation will be driven through licensing technology, delivering growth in audience and revenue.

TH2. Working with digital identity platform providers and (TRUU, Consult Hyperion) and NCSC/GCHQ we will map the capabilities and governance structures of self-sovereign ID schemes that utilise DLT and develop policy recommendations around the interplay between UK legislation and self-sovereign identity. TH2 will output novel federated machine learning technology that can leverage de-centralised data to collaboratively build AI models and help users visualize (Wallscope) and extract value from data understanding the legal frameworks to enable that in decentralised form (Bristows). With DC Field Labs we will co-create a data marketplace that enables data to move with fluidity and (controlled) autonomy between creator and provider, co-creating personalised services and compensating the owner (buildingon COMEHERE). This will unlock new economic models for data that will deliver broad impact across all sectors of the DE. Our frameworks will adapt ODI's ongoing work on Data Trusts and embed RRI throughout via Data and AI Ethics workshops at DC Machine Intelligence Garage.

TH3 delivers impact for those working in future gig economy enabled by the DDE; focusing on casual or voluntary sectors (Volunteer Scotland and Oxfam, building on OXCHAIN), and professional services. We will develop technical prototype of a self-sovereign work record, developed alongside UKGov departments (DWP Scottish Government, HMRC) and the SCRIPT centre. Within the Field Labs, work with DWP will study how definitions of the value of work evolve (e.g. toward reputation, or qualification) and relates to the provenance and integrity of a self-sovereign work record. Integration of payment technology from Fintech providers (DCT, Clarion Bond, Thomson) will develop new forms of value exchange that are linked to the individuals work record, and from this we will develop policy recommendations with HMRC for digital taxation in this ecosystem, as well as legal insights into employment law (with Fieldfisher, UCU) in the DDE.

DECaDE will deliver training and capability in DE research; including 9 PhDs and 5 PDRAs with translational opportunities toward full academic posts and for industry fellows to embed within the centre. DE researchers will undertake international exchanges with Blockchain@UBC



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