Institute for Digital Economics new at HAMBURG INNOVATION PORT

Timo Heinrich is the new professor at TUHH’s Institute for Digital Economics and recently moved to the Hamburg Innovation Port with his institute.

New, digital technologies make our everyday lives easier. Via Amazon, products can be ordered to one’s doorstep in seconds around the clock, and thanks to various streaming services, countless videos and songs are available at any time and any place. Since October 2020, Professor Timo Heinrich at the newly founded Institute for Digital Economics at the Technical University of Hamburg has been investigating the consequences of such changes on the economy and on human behavior. “For example, I am interested in how artificial intelligence can support decision-making, how people evaluate extreme risks, and how communication facilitates trade in digital markets”, says the new TU professor. “To do this, I use statistical methods, as well as laboratory and field experiments.”

Artificial intelligence and trust

With his research, Heinrich wants to further develop theories of human behavior in the context of digitalization. To do this, the scientist is looking at reputation and communication mechanisms, such as those used by eBay, Uber or even Airbnb, among others. “I am investigating communication between client and provider in order to understand how trust is created between anonymous actors”, explains the TU professor. In this context, Heinrich is also shedding light on the role of Artificial Intelligence in the form of chatbots and virtual agents.

Digital database for studies

One long-term project that the scientist would like to pursue at TU Hamburg is the creation of a database for study participants that is open throughout Germany. “Economic experiments are increasingly being conducted online. To find test subjects for them, researchers have so far used market research institutes, databases of individual experimental laboratories or even commercial platforms”, Heinrich explains. A database that is open throughout Germany could greatly simplify this process. Not only could it meet German data protection standards, but it could also digitize payout processes and recruit test subjects from all population groups.

Design, analyze and critically evaluate

With his teaching program, the new TU professor wants to give students the ability to design digital networks and markets and analyze human behavior in them. However, digitization not only creates new opportunities, but also raises questions regarding their regulation. “I therefore also want to equip students with tools that enable them to critically scrutinize new technologies and examine them from an economic perspective”, Heinrich said.

Heinrich’s academic career began after studying business informatics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, where he earned his doctorate in economics in 2011. In addition to stays as a visiting scholar in Spain and the U.S., he led a research group there from 2014 to 2017 and was most recently an assistant professor at Durham University in the U.K. and a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Greifswald. The Berlin-born researcher finally moved to the Elbe to set up the new TU Institute for Digital Economics. What he particularly likes about Hamburg is the Hafencity with the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. He spends his free time by the sea or on the soccer field.

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