The conference on the Economics of Information and Communication Technologies at ZEW Mannheim has long been considered one of the most important international scientific events in the field of digital economy. The event, which took place for the 18th time, was organised by the ZEW Research Department “Digital Economy” on 2 July 2020 – with one major innovation: Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the event was held virtually for the first time ever and had a reduced programme. With almost 300 international researchers it was extremely successful.

The 18th scientific conference of the research area "Digital Economy" took place virtually for the first time this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Goldfarb introduced the 18th Conference on the Economics of Information and Communication Technologies with a lecture on machine learning.

The conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Avi Goldfarb, professor at the University of Toronto in Canada. He discussed the question of whether machine learning as a method of artificial intelligence is a general-purpose technology. His presentation focused on a new approach to classifying a technology as a general-purpose technology even before its widespread use. Typically, general-purpose technologies are only identified retrospectively. This way, however, informed decisions on technology adoption are hardly possible. Using online job ads, Goldfarb and his co-authors therefore compared several emerging technologies in terms of breadth of industries with job postings and the importance and breadth of research roles. Goldfarb’s findings suggest that machine learning and related data analysis technologies can most likely be considered general-purpose technologies.

Conference covers broad range of topics related to the digital economy

Following the keynote speech, the conference featured a total of six parallel sessions that explored various aspects of the digital economy, with topics ranging from consumer behaviour, competition on digital platforms and the economic impact of artificial intelligence to the sharing economy, as well as questions of privacy and data protection. The conference consisted of 13 presentations and subsequent discussions. After the conference, the participants had the opportunity to socialize in an informal setting in randomly composed groups of three – a platform that was very well received, so that the fruitful informal exchange known from previous events was also possible in this year’s virtual format.