- jane wakefield
- BBC technology journalist
Many have been told that we have one doubleaangela stranger who looks a lot like us.
But imagine if you could create your own twin brother, an exact copy of yourself, but has it a pure digital life.
We live in an age where everything that exists in the real world is digitally replicated: our cities, our cars, our homes, and even ourselves.
And like the much-hyped metaverse — a virtual, digital world in which an avatar of yourself would exist — digital twins have become a new tech trend.
A digital twin it is an exact replica of something in the physical world, but with a single mission: to help improve or otherwise provide feedback to the real version.
Initially, these twins were just advanced 3D computer models.
But artificial intelligence (AI) combined with the Internet of Things, which uses sensors to connect physical items to the network, means you can now digitally build something that constantly learning and helping a improve to his counterpartand Real.
Technology analyst Rob Enderle believes we’ll have the first versions of thinking human digital twins “before the end of the decade.”
“Their emergence will take a lot of thought and ethical consideration, because a thinking replica of ourselves could be incredibly useful to employers,” he muses.
“What happens when the company you work for turns you into a digital twin and says, ‘Hey, you have a digital twin that we don’t pay a salary to, why are we still hiring you?'”
Enderle believes ownership of such digital twins will become one of the defining issues of the approaching era of the metaverse.
We have already started the journey towards human twinning, in the form of the aforementioned avatars, but they are currently rather clumsy and primitive.
For example, on the Meta (formerly Facebook) virtual reality platform, Horizon worldsyou can give your avatar a face similar to yours, but you can’t even give it legs because the technology is at a very early stage.
Sandra Wachter, a senior researcher in AI at the University of Oxford, understands the appeal of creating digital twins of humans: “It’s reminiscent of suspenseful sci-fi novels, and right now that’s the stage it’s at.”
He adds that whether someone “passes law school, gets sick, or commits a crime will depend on the still-debated ‘nature versus nurture question’.”
“It will depend on luck and bad luck, friends, family, your environment and socio-economic background, and of course your personal choices,” he says.
However, he explains, AI is still not good at predicting these “unique social events because of their inherent complexity.”
“So we have a long way to go before we can understand and model someone’s life from beginning to end, assuming that’s always possible.”
Instead, it is in product design, distribution and urban planning that the use of digital twins is currently most advanced and widespread.
In Formula 1 racing, the McLaren and Red Bull teams use digital twins of their race cars.
Meanwhile, the postal company DHL is creating a digital map of its warehouse and supply chains to work more efficiently.
And more every time our cities are imitated in the digital world; Shanghai and Singapore have created digital twins to help improve the design and operation of buildings, transport systems and streets.
In Singapore, one of the digital twin’s jobs is to help people find new ways to get around and avoid polluted areas. Other places use technology to suggest where to build new infrastructure, such as subway lines.
New cities in the Middle East are also being built simultaneously in the real and digital worlds.
French software company Dassault Systèmes says it is seeing interest from thousands of companies for its digital twin technology.
His work to date has included using digital twins to help a hair care company digitally design more sustainable shampoo bottles, rather than endless real-life prototypes. This reduces waste.
And it lets other companies design new futuristic projects, from jetpacks to hoverwheel motorcycles and even flying cars.
Each also has a physical prototype, but the refinement of that first model happens in the digital space.
But the real value of digital twins lies in healthcare.
Dassault Systèmes’ Living Heart project created an accurate virtual model of the human heart that can be tested and analyzed, allowing surgeons to envision a number of what-if scenarios for the organ using various medical procedures and devices.
The project was founded by Steve Levine, who wanted to create a digital twin for personal reasons. Her daughter was born with a congenital heart condition and some time ago, in her early twenties and at high risk of heart failure, she decided to mimic her heart in virtual reality.
Boston Children’s Hospital is now using this technology to map patients’ actual heart conditions, while at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, a team of engineers and doctors are testing devices that could help children with rare and difficult-to-treat heart conditions.
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