press release
Published: 28 October 2020

New AI and Blockchain Centre to help usher in a new era for the digital economy

The University of Surrey has secured £10million in funding to launch an ambitious and unique research centre that will look to reshape the future of the digital economy with the help of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology.

Data-driven innovations have already dramatically changed the shape of many sectors, transforming them into decentralised marketplaces – such as with Airbnb (accommodation), Uber (transportation) and Deliveroo (logistics). However, the platforms which allow this "gig economy" to exist are overwhelmingly controlled by large organisations. 

The University of Surrey, together with the University of Edinburgh and Digital Catapult, is establishing the Centre for the Decentralised Digital Economy (DECaDE), thanks to £4million awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council announced today and £6million investment from industrial partners. 

For five years and beyond, DECaDE will help make sure that the emerging decentralised digital economy profits all parties involved by developing insights that define a new model of work and value creation. The centre will focus its research into state-of-the-art AI tools and distributed ledger technologies and investigate how they can be used to help drive decentralised innovations in the digital economy. 

John Collomosse, Professor of Computer Vision at the Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing and Principal Investigator/Director of DECaDE, said: "In a short space of time, we have seen our economy transformed by digital technologies, offering everyone the opportunity to be a producer, seller and direct consumer of services. Whether you are buying a sofa from a private seller on Amazon or you are ordering a takeaway on Just Eat, these peer-to-peer interactions are liberating. They are a significant change to how business was conducted only a few years ago.  

"However, the platforms on which these digital services are built follow the same centralised, classic infrastructure of the past. We are standing on the cusp of a second digital economy disruption wave, led by the emergence of AI and distributed ledger technologies.  We believe that the governance of these platforms and the data that powers them will soon sit with individuals and decentralised organisations."

Professor Chris Speed, Director for the Institute for Design Informatics and Co-Investigator for the Centre, said: "Understanding value in an ever-increasing decentralised digital economy has never been more important. We look forward to working with a myriad of organisations, in particular those in the Creative Industries, who can benefit from new ways of thinking about how to design a new generation of trusted products and services."

Dr Robert Learney, Head of Technology for Distributed Systems at Digital Catapult, said:  "The sheer volume of data that's now being generated and collected from our online behaviour has multiple uses. But it begs the question of what can people and organisations do to understand the shared value of this data? It's worthless without the ability to do something with it, and DLT in combination with AI offers the ideal solution to produce better more robust governance, improve trust and visibility, and help organisations move away from siloed data ownership and management. We're thrilled to bring our deep technical expertise in distributed ledger technology, and our practical experience of helping organisations understand how to embed ethical and responsible behaviours into the development and application of new technologies, to this exciting project." 

Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway, said: “We rely on technology for so many things in our lives - from paying our bills and buying our weekly food shop to tackling climate change and finding new treatments for diseases. We must continue investing so we can keep pushing the boundaries of technological developments that improve our daily lives and transform industries. 

“The six new research centres announced today will support our ambitious scientists and researchers to develop incredible innovations such as strengthening our online safety and delivering virtual education and healthcare, helping to cement the UK as a science superpower.”


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