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Digital Economy: Opening Statement: The past, present, and future of the digital economy

Ubiquity, Volume 2023 Issue February, February 2023 | BY Maja Vuković, Kemal Delic

Full citation in the ACM Digital Library  | PDF


Volume 2023, Number February (2023), Pages 1-5

Ubiquity Symposium: Digital Economy: Opening Statement: The past, present, and future of the digital economy
Maja Vuković, Kemal Delic
DOI: 10.1145/3583760

Over time economies advanced from the initial barter exchange of goods and services to the invention of money and rise of the industrial age, morphing into today's modern, web-intensive economy. We are witnessing the rise of the digital economy (DE), where digital technologies are creating, adapting, and consuming goods and services. Entire industries are under pressure to transform and adapt to DE circumstances. In this symposium, authors present an overview of the evolution of digital economy, as well as emerging trends and challenges.

The digital economy (DE) broadly refers to economic activity that is the result of an hyperconnected world and increasing interactions between people, computing devices, data they generate, and organizations. In this symposium we discuss developments leading to the rise of the digital economy. We present examples of major technologies and applications centered on sustainability, digital assets, and system modeling. We conclude with a discussion and open challenges for future developments in the digital economy.


The opening article, written by Irving Wladawsky Berger, provides a large-scale canvas of the entire domain and reflects on the evolution of the digital economy underpinned by technological advances.

Ted Lewis follows with a focus on the larger implications and challenges of cryptocurrency and its role in the digital economy. Lewis discusses the consequences of the digital economy, and how it changes the rules of economics.

Umesh Dayal and Kemal Delic revisit their ACM Ubiquity essay on the intelligent enterprise written 20 years ago and position it within the current context of the digital economy.


Energy. Energy consumption by information communication technologies (ICT) and its CO2 impact is a controversial subject with many divergent views—on one end of the spectrum, views that it became more efficient, to the other end of the spectrum where increased consumption created substantial adverse environmental impact for its manufacturing and decommissioning. According to Erol Gelenbe one reason for this controversy is the lack of definition regarding the perimeter of "ICT systems."

The lack of systematic measurement data about energy consumption of analog and digital devices is yet another source of uncertainty and controversy. Jagabondhu Hazra, Shantanu Godbole, Kommy Weldemariam, and Maja Vuković share some proposed approaches for helping enterprises to decarbonize their emissions as they embrace the digital economy.

Crypto-Privacy-Security. Bitcoin, blockchain, NFTs, DeFi, Webb3, and related technologies have given rise to extreme levels of excitement and controversy. Andrew Odlyzko addresses the role and importance of digital money for the digital economy, and how it illuminates the evolution of modern society. Whether these systems succeed or fail, they will provide major benefits to society by providing insights into the workings of technology diffusion, and into the dynamics of the emerging digital economy. They may prepare us for the post-truth, metaverse future, with its likely intensification of the financialization and gamification of the economy. There are likely to be major impacts on the development and deployment of technologies, and greater demand for some computing skills.

The technologies enabling the digital economy are fostering innovations—changes of practice that bring value to the community. However, the same technologies are enabling dark innovations—changes of practice that benefit a few around the fringes but are detrimental to the vast majority. Peter Denning names patent trolls, subscription services, automation of customer service, and abstraction from big data as examples of dark innovations. There are no easy solutions. But with awareness of the problems, we may be able to do something about them. There are trolls under every digital bridge.

Modeling. The economy is a highly dynamic system, saturated with uncertainty that makes it impossible to predict using the methods of traditional science. Seen at the global level it involves billions of people, trillions of items, and astronomic numbers of transactions and exchanges, and events in a constant flux. This fits into every definition of complex systems. According to Jeffrey Johnson and Kemal Delic, complex systems science gives new ways of understanding messy ever-changing systems of systems of systems and their entangled bottom-up top-down dynamics and offer a methodology of rationalizing about the digital economy.

Jeff Riley further argues the new, digital economy, and the old, traditional economy, have become intertwined, and businesses that have hitherto operated only in the traditional economy must adapt to the digital economy, or risk being left behind.

Meanwhile Soundar Kumara and Paul Witherell approach the digital economy from a product realization (manufacturing) angle. They discuss the most important research questions related to representation, search, and composition to achieve self-sufficiency by integrating small and medium manufacturing enterprises by integrating them into the digital economy.


Immersive virtual environments, known also as metaverse, have emerged with innovative use cases of consumers. New applications in health care, education, and enterprise domains are being explored. This introduces new research opportunities. Novel business models are being explored in this new, highly interactive and experience rich technologies.

To close this symposium, we summarize, synthesize, and crystalize the ideas, insights, and collected thoughts of our authors on the development of the digital economy.

Table Of Contents

  1. "Opening Statement: The past, present, and future of the digital economy" By Maja Vuković and Kemal Delic
  2. "The Evolution of the Digital Economy" By Irving Wladawsky Berger
  3. "The Economics of the Digital Economy" By Ted G. Lewis
  4. "The Rise of Intelligent Enterprise: Twenty years later" By Umesh Dayal and Kemal Delic
  5. "Electricity Consumption by ICT" By Erol Gelenbe
  6. "AI for Environmental Intelligence in the Digital Economy" By Jagabondhu Hazra, Shantanu Godbole, Kommy Weldemariam, and Maja Vuković
  7. "The Underestimated and Durable Benefits of Cryptocurrency Mania" By Andrew Odlyzko
  8. "Dark Innovations in the Digital Economy" By Peter Denning
  9. "Digital Economy as a Complex System" By Jeffrey Johnson and Kemal Delic
  10. "AI Powers the Digital Economy" By Jeff Riley
  11. "Exploiting the Digital Economy for Product Realization in Manufacturing" By Soundar Kumara and Paul Witherell
  12. "Immersive Environments Re-Emerging in Digital Economy" By Maja Vuković and Kemal Delic
  13. "Closing Statement: Beyond the hype of the digital economy" By Maja Vuković and Kemal Delic


Maja Vuković is an IBM Fellow, responsible for technical and research strategy for AI driven Application Modernization. Her main research interests include AI planning, machine learning, data science, and AI for Code. Maja is a member of IBM Academy of Technology and an IBM Master Inventor, with more than 190 patents granted and more than 90 papers published at international conferences and journals. She is a senior editor at ACM Ubiquity. Maja is a senior member of IEEE and was awarded the Women in Services Computing Award by IEEE. Maja has received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, for her work on context-aware service composition using AI planning.

Kemal A. Delic is a senior fellow with The Open University, UK researching complex systems. He is also a senior editor with ACM Ubiquity, advisor to EC and expert evaluator. He was a senior technologist, architect, and scientist with Hewlett-Packard for 24 years, software engineer with Energoinvest for 12 years, and visiting researcher with CNR-Italy for two years. He lectures at the Universities of Grenoble and Sarajevo and is co-founder of AInc LTD.

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