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IDE Illuminates Major 2021 Tech Trends

December 15, 2021

By David Verrill

Achievement awards are a beacon in a year of tech turmoil

Three reports shed light on the news that dominated digital tech this year

It was year when social media truly took center stage; a year when the ongoing COVID crisis and related misinformation dominated world news and the IDE research agenda.

In short, 2021 was a year when the social implications of digital technologies—like AI, social media, and cryptocurrencies—could no longer be ignored.  Technology and society became one conversation. Should social media be regulated,? And if so, how? Can we safeguard personal privacy? Can we stem the flow of misinformation?

Nowhere was this melding of tech and society more palpable than at events and seminars hosted by the IDE this year and in the research conducted every day. Led by Director Sinan Aral, recently named the top digital thinker by Thinkers50, the team of award winning researchers worked at the intersection of computing, social science, digital experimentation, and economics to decipher and explain unprecedented events as they unfolded.

And awards for our team didn’t stop there:

We celebrate these researchers and their teams for their excellent work in a particularly trying time.

All year, the IDE team launched programming and publications to bring pressing research findings to the forefront. [See all of the recent publications here.]

Here are three reports summarizing our top 2021 projects and events.

  1. The MIT IDE Social Media Summit (SMS @ MIT)

Propelled by a series of political jolts in the U.S. and globally—from the January 6 Capitol riots, to leaks about Facebook’s internal operations– more than 18,000 virtual attendees gathered on April 22 for the first annual SMS @ MIT. The focus was on solutions—such as ensuring transparency, reviving competition, rescuing the truth, and humanizing design.  Global policymakers, journalists, researchers, and executives offered remedies to “steer us toward the promise of digital technologies and away from the perils,” according to Summit host, Sinan Aral.

Read the report, Social Media at a Crossroads, 25 Solutions from the Social Media Summit.

2. Our World Accelerated: COVID-19 and the Impact on Our Digital Economy

The IDE research team worked diligently to provide timely, accurate, and data-informed analysis of the pandemic and its effects, and actionable solutions for policymakers, business leaders, and citizens. We collaborated with companies like Facebook, Safegraph, Praekelt, and Graphika Inc., to analyze millions of data points to both help stop the spread of the coronavirus and to advise global leaders on critical next steps. The report outlines the key findings from multiple research projects conducted by the IDE research team.

3. Platforms Mean Business

That’s the major takeaway from the 2021 MIT IDE Platform Strategy Summit. It was a year of business reinvention when firms had to use every tool in the toolbox to stay competitive, profitable, and forward-thinking.

“Firms that implemented an end-to-end digital infrastructure were much more nimble and able to deal with disruptive supply and demand. It gave them the option to deal with pandemic-driven disruption,” said Summit co-chair, Geoffrey Parker.

Platform ecosystems are attracting new business partners, streamlining operations, and optimizing digital technologies. READ recaps of all the sessions and get actionable advice from industry experts in our just-released report. Find out how B2B platforms are gaining momentum in traditional industries and what trends to watch.


Going into 2022, these efforts will continue, and the IDE will also be exploring emerging technologies—including AI and bias, cloud and quantum computing, the metaverse, and digital health trends—that will dominate tomorrow’s conversations, as well.