Why you will soon have a digital twin (and what they are for)
BBC Technology Journalist
Many of us have been told that we have a doppelgängera stranger who looks a lot like us.
But imagine if you could create your own twin, an exact copy of yourself, but with a purely 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 just like the much-hyped metaverse – a virtual, digital world where an avatar of yourself would exist – digital twins have become a new technology trend.
And digital twin it’s an exact replica of something in the physical world, but with a single mission: to help improve, or otherwise provide feedback to, the real-life version.
Initially, these twins were just sophisticated 3D computer models.
But artificial intelligence (AI) combined with the internet of things, which uses sensors to connect physical elements to the network, means that you can now build something digitally that is constantly learning and helping a to improve to its counterparte 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 require a great deal of thought and ethical consideration, because a thinking replica of ourselves could be incredibly helpful to employers,” he muses.
“What if the company you work for creates a digital twin of you 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 impending metaverse era.
reminiscent of science fiction
We have already started the journey towards 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 in its very early stages.
Sandra Wachter, a 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 at.”
He adds that whether someone “succeeds in law school, gets sick, or commits a crime will depend on the still-debated ‘nature versus nurture question.'”
“It will depend on good luck and bad luck, on friends, on family, on your environment and socio-economic background and, of course, on your personal choices,” he says.
However, he explains, AI is still not good at predicting these “unique social events due to their inherent complexity.”
“So we have a long way to go until we can understand and model a person’s life from beginning to end, assuming that it is always possible.”
Instead, it is in the fields of product design, distribution, and urban planning that the use of digital twins is currently most sophisticated and widespread.
In Formula 1 racing, the McLaren and Red Bull teams use digital twins of their race cars.
Meanwhile, postal company DHL is creating a digital map of its warehouse and supply chains to enable it to be more efficient.
And each time more our cities are being replicated in the digital world; Shanghai and Singapore have digital twins, created 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 help find new ways for people to move around and avoid areas of pollution. Other places use technology to suggest where to build new infrastructure, like subway lines.
New cities are also being built in the Middle East 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.
So far, his work has included using digital twins to help a hair care company design more sustainable shampoo bottles digitally, rather than endless real-life prototypes. This reduces waste.
And it’s letting 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 initial model happens in the digital space.
But the real value seen in digital twins is 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 act out a series of what-if scenarios for the organ, using various medical procedures and devices.
The project was founded by Steve Levine, who had personal reasons for wanting to create a digital twin. Her daughter was born with congenital heart disease and a while ago, when she was in her early 20s and at high risk for heart failure, she decided to recreate her heart in virtual reality.
Boston Children’s Hospital is now using this technology to map patients’ real heart conditions, while at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, a team of engineers is working with doctors to test devices that can help children with rare heart conditions. and difficult to treat.
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC World. Download the new version of our app and activate it so you don’t miss out on our best content.