- Jane Wakefield
- BBC technology journalist
Many of us have been told that we have a doppelgangerangera stranger who looks a lot like us.
But imagine if you could make your own twin sister, an exact copy of yourself, but with… a pure digital life.
We live in a time when everything that exists in the real world is being digitally replicated: our cities, our cars, our homes, and even ourselves.
And like the much-hyped metaverse — a virtual, digital world where an avatar of yourself would exist — digital twins have become a new technology trend.
A digital twin it’s an exact replica of something in the physical world, but with one mission: to help improve or otherwise provide feedback to the real-life 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 elements to the network, means you can now digitally build something that constant learning and helping a improve to his counterpartand Real.
Technology analyst Rob Enderle believes we will have the first versions of thinking human digital twins “before the end of the decade.”
“Its emergence requires a lot of thought and ethical considerations, because a thinking replica of ourselves can be incredibly useful to employers,” he muses.
“What if the company you work for turns you into a digital twin and says ‘hey, you have this digital twin that we don’t pay a salary for, why are we still employing you?'”
Enderle believes that the ownership of such digital twins will become one of the defining issues of the approaching metaverse era.
reminds me of science fiction
We have already embarked on the journey to human twinning, in the form of the avatars mentioned above, but they are currently rather clumsy and primitive.
For example on Meta’s (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 still in its infancy.
Sandra Wachter, senior AI researcher at the University of Oxford, understands the appeal of creating digital twins of humans: “It’s reminiscent of exciting science fiction novels, and right now that’s the stage it’s in.”
He adds that whether someone “passes law school, gets sick, or commits a crime depends on the still-discussed ‘nature versus nurture’ issue.”
“It depends on luck and bad luck, on friends, on family, on your background and socioeconomic background, and of course on your personal choices,” he says.
However, he explains that AI is still not good at predicting these “unique social events because of their inherent complexity.”
“So we still have a long way to go before we can understand and model a person’s life from start to finish, assuming it’s always possible.”
Instead, the use of digital twins is currently the most advanced and widespread in product design, distribution and urban planning.
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 every time more our cities are being replicated in the digital world; Shanghai and Singapore have created digital twins to help improve the design and operation of buildings, transportation systems and streets.
In Singapore, one of the tasks of its digital twin is to find new ways for people to get around and avoid areas of pollution. Other places use technology to suggest where to build new infrastructure, such as subway lines.
At the same time, new cities are being built in the real and digital world in the Middle East.
French software company Dassault Systèmes says it sees interest from thousands of companies for its digital twin technology.
So far, he’s used digital twins to help a hair care company digitally design more durable shampoo bottles, rather than endless real-life prototypes. This reduces waste.
And it lets other companies design futuristic new projects, from jetpacks to hover-wheel motorcycles and even flying cars.
Each also has a physical prototype, but the refinement of that first model is happening 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 perform a series of what-if scenarios for the organ using a variety of medical procedures and devices.
The project was founded by Steve Levine, who had personal reasons for wanting to create a digital twin. His daughter was born with congenital heart disease and some time ago, when she was in her early twenties and at high risk of heart failure, she decided to recreate 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 are working with doctors to test devices that can help children with rare heart conditions and to be treated.
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