Stanford University

Erik Brynjolfsson

Letter from the Director

November 8, 2021

We are in the early stages of a fundamental restructuring of the economy. It’s catalyzed by a rapidly advancing frontier of digital technologies, especially artificial intelligence. At the same time, our society’s infrastructure, organizations, and skills are not keeping pace. 

In the growing gap between brilliant technologies and lagging economics lie many of our society’s greatest opportunities for progress. But the gap also harbors some of our thorniest challenges. Our society has unprecedented tools for boosting productivity, creating and sharing knowledge, unleashing innovation, and fostering widespread prosperity. We also face growing problems in labor markets, competition, inequality, measurement, privacy, bias, governance, and skill development. 

The 21st century may ultimately be defined by the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence and other powerful digital technologies. We have a role to play in shaping whether this shift yields economic and social gains that are shared broadly–or exacerbates existing inequities. At the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, we are mindful optimists who believe we can unleash the promise of technology and address the critical problems, but only if we act today. 

The key is advancing economics as rapidly as we advance technology. 

Just as the microscope transformed biology and medicine, the digitization of the economy affords us the opportunity to study the fine-grained information flows in markets and organizations. 

Just as Simon Kuznets developed measurement infrastructure for GDP and productivity in the 20th century, we need a new measurement infrastructure for the 21st century. 

Just as Adam Smith helped lay the foundation for understanding how markets work in a world of atoms, we need a new understanding of the economics of bits

Our society needs a place where the best minds can work together on the challenges and opportunities created by digital technologies, networks, and AI. This is our call to action at the Lab.

Erik Brynjolfsson is director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab and the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Professor and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI (HAI). He is the Ralph Landau Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and holds appointments at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford Department of Economics and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

One of the most-cited authors on the economics of information, Brynjolfsson was among the first researchers to measure productivity contributions of IT and the complementary role of organizational capital and other intangibles. He has done pioneering research on digital commerce, the Long Tail, bundling and pricing models, intangible assets and the effects of IT on business strategy, productivity and performance.

Stanford University