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The Initiative on the Digital Economy is led by renowned MIT and MIT Sloan faculty and researchers, who together bring decades of groundbreaking scholarship and thought leadership on technology and the economy to bear on the challenges and disruptions of today’s digital revolution.

Erik Brynjolfsson

Erik Brynjolfsson Bio
Erik Brynjolfsson is the Director of the IDE. He is also the Schussel Family Professor of Management at MIT Sloan, Chairman of the MIT Sloan Management Review, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research examines the effects of information technologies on business strategy, productivity and performance, Internet commerce, pricing models, and intangible assets. At MIT, he teaches courses on the Economics of Information. Professor Brynjolfsson was among the first researchers to measure the productivity contributions of IT and the complementary role of organizational capital and other intangibles. His research also provided the first quantification of the value of online product variety and developed pricing and bundling models for information goods. Brynjolfsson’s research has appeared in leading economics, management, and science journals. He has been recognized with nine Best Paper awards and five patents. Professor Brynjolfsson holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University in Applied Mathematics and Decision Sciences and a PhD from MIT in Managerial Economics. He has also taught at Harvard and Stanford.

Andrew McAfee

Andrew McAfee

The 'computer revolution' has accelerated recently, and it's not just one revolution. After decades of frustratingly slow progress the field of artificial intelligence has in the past few years seen significant breakthroughs in natural language processing, image recognition, inference, and other fundamental areas. Autonomous vehicles and robots have made similarly large strides, sometimes literally. The work of innovation and knowledge creation has opened up immeasurably as hundreds of millions of people (soon to be billions) have come online with powerful devices. And Moore's Law keeps operating to make computing better and cheaper and big data keeps getting bigger. Any one of these advances would be a significant development for our businesses, economies, and societies; in combination they're bringing the biggest changes since the Industrial Revolution.

IDE cofounder Andrew McAfee has begun to explore these changes in Race Against the Machine and The Second Machine Age, his two books with Erik Brynjolfsson, as well as in his other work. He believes that as digital technologies continue to advance quickly, it's important to follow them out of the lab and into the real world in order to observe their effects on performance, competition, and organization and to learn how to best combine the capabilities of people and machines. He takes a cue from science fiction author William Gibson's observation that "the future is already here; it's just not evenly distributed." In that case, a sound strategy is to combine firsthand observation and more systematic data in order to understand where the future is farthest along, and how leaders can best shape it.

Andy's primary research falls into three areas:

  1. Quantifying the business impact of recent advances in artificial intelligence. Deep learning and other techniques have revitalized the field of machine learning and enabled rapid progress in many problem areas. What happens when these advances are deployed in an industrial setting? How much and how quickly do performance measures change? How do the roles of people involve? 
  2. Researching and writing a business book about the second machine age. How should business leaders take advantage of the fact that technology is racing ahead? How should they rethink strategies, redesign processes, and change structures? How should they organize, innovate, and go to market differently? Andy and Erik will continue their joint investigation of how digital progress is changing the business world.
  3. Exploring the societal choices we'll face as we continue to digitize. Technology is racing ahead, which is the best economic news on the planet, but as it's doing so it's leaving a lot of people behind. Inequality is growing in the US (and around the world) and the average worker is losing ground. These realities have given rise to a huge range of policy suggestions covering everything from taxation to regulation to education. Which ones are best for the second machine age? Will we at some point need to fundamentally rethink the pillars of our current capitalist economic systems? 

Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland

Alex Pentland

Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland heads the Big Data research program of the IDE. He also directs MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, co-leads the World Economic Forum Big Data and Personal Data initiatives, and is a founding member of the Advisory Boards for Nissan, Motorola Mobility, Telefonica, and a variety of start-up firms. He previously helped create and direct MIT’s Media Laboratory, the Media Lab Asia laboratories at the Indian Institutes of Technology, and Strong Hospital’s Center for Future Health. In 2012, Forbes named Professor Pentland one of the ‘seven most powerful data scientists in the world.’

In 2013 he won the McKinsey Award from Harvard Business Review. He is among the most- cited computational scientists in the world, and a pioneer in computational social science, organizational engineering, wearable computing (Google Glass), image understanding, and modern biometrics. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, and Harvard Business Review and has been the focus of multiple TV features. His most recent book is Honest Signals, published by MIT Press. Over the years Pentland has advised more than 50 PhD students. Almost half are now tenured faculty at leading institutions, with another one-quarter leading industry research groups and a final quarter founders of their own companies. Pentland’s research group and entrepreneurship program have spun off more than 30 companies to date, three of which are publicly listed and several of which serve millions of poor in Africa and South Asia.

Sinan Aral

Sinan Aral

Sinan Aral heads the Social Analytics and Large Scale Experimentation research programs of the IDE. He is the David Austin Professor of Management and an Associate Professor of Information Technology and Marketing at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

He was the Chief Scientist at SocialAmp, one of the earliest social commerce analytics companies (until its sale in 2012); and is currently the Chief Scientist at Humin, a social navigation startup developing the Google Maps for your social relationships.

Sinan has been a Fulbright Scholar and is currently the Scholar-in-Residence at the New York Times R&D Lab. His research focuses on social contagion, product virality and measuring, and managing how information diffusion in massive social networks such as Twitter and Facebook affects information worker productivity, consumer demand, and viral marketing. He has worked closely with Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Nike, IBM, Intel, Cisco, Oracle, SAP and many other leading Fortune 500 firms on realizing business value from social media and IT investments.

He is a frequent speaker at such thought leading events as TEDxSiliconValley, TEDxColumbia Engineering, TEDxNYU, Wired’s “Nextwork,” and PopTech; and he has been the keynote speaker at executive gatherings such as Omnicom’s Global “Emerge” Summit.

Sinan is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Northwestern University. He holds an MSc from the London School of Economics and an MPP from Harvard University, and received his PhD from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

You can find him on Twitter @sinanaral.

David Verrill

David Verrill
David Verrill is Executive Director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, and its sister organization the Center for Digital Business which he helped launch in 1999. David has worked and consulted at MIT for more than 25 years. Prior to his work at MIT, he was a research scientist at the Center for Blood Research in Boston, focusing on the human immune system. David has also worked at Xerox Adaptive Products, where he was Manager of International Sales and Business Development. He has also helped start two companies, including Winchester International Group and the Hub Investment Group, which continues to invest in startup companies in the New England region. David has degrees from Bowdoin College and the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he received a Master of Science.