The Singular Economy: End of the Digital/Physical Divide

Meceda, Ann M.;Vonortas, Nicholas S.

  • Published : 2018.11.30


The divide between the "digital" economy and the traditional "physical" economy is outdated. In fact, we are in a transition to a singular economy. This paper classifies economic objects (including actors) as either physical or virtual and argues that due to emerging technologies, these objects are interacting with each other in both physical and increasingly digital spheres in tandem. This paper recognizes the elemental difference between atoms and bytes but argues that physical and digital economic activities are becoming inseparably intertwined. Furthermore, arbitrarily dividing the economy into two categories - one "physical" and the other "digital" - distorts the overall view of the actual execution of economic activity. A wide range of innovations emerging concurrently is fueling the transition to a singular economy. Often referred to as the elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), four emerging technological areas are reviewed here: distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence/machine learning/data sciences, biometrics and remote sensor technologies, and access infrastructure (universal internet access/electricity/cloud computing). The financial services sector is presented as a case study for the potential impact of these 4IR technologies and the blurring physical/digital line. To reach the potential of these innovations and a truly singular economy, it requires the concurrent development of social, organizational, and regulatory innovations, though they lag in terms of technological progress thus far.


digital economy;physical economy;singular economy;internet of things;blockchain;artificial intelligence;fourth industrial revolution


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