Not so long ago, the idea of cloning living beings was considered science fiction. Today, we know that it’s possible. Today, two technologies are flipping headlines: artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Together, these technologies are finding creative applications like creating Personal Digital Twins. Yes, you read that right, a digital twin. So, are you ready for your digital twin to show up at work?
Digital twins, are they real or just science fiction?
Digital twins are very real. In fact, engineers have been using this technology for over 20 years. You can think of a digital twin as an accurate virtual representation of a process or physical object. Confused? It’s easier to illustrate this concept with an example.
Suppose you are a manufacturer of brake pads for automobiles. Designing reliable brake pads is highly complex. They must withstand extreme temperature changes from very hot to room temperature in seconds without destroying the material. Engineers can use computer-aided design to find the optimum dimensions and run simulations to estimate brake pad endurance. However, they can’t know how the brake pad behaves in real-life situations. Or can they?
Thanks to today’s technology, engineers can use test cars equipped with many sensors that transmit data in real-time. This data, in turn, can feed a “digital twin” of the brake pad, an exact copy in every respect. In other words, from a control room, engineers can see the brake pad’s performance in real-time and learn from it to improve the product. Moreover, thanks to Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, data does not have to be limited to a small fleet of test vehicles. In the not-too-distant future, automakers will be collecting all kinds of information from cars to improve them.
You must be thinking, that’s all very interesting, but what does it have to do with me? It’s impossible to make a digital replica of a person, right?
What is a Personal Digital Twin
The concept of “personal digital twin” is essentially the same as in manufacturing, a faithful replica of its host that emulates its behavior as closely as possible. The crucial difference here is that we are talking about people, not inanimate objects. So it’s important not to get the wrong idea of what a personal digital twin is.
Let’s start with the basics; a Personal Digital Twin is not a clone since a clone would be a physical replica. Think of a Personal Digital Twin as a highly complex virtual model or simulation. Over time, this simulation will learn your habits, reactions, preferences, and a host of other aspects that define you as an individual. Scared? You shouldn’t be. If you think about it, virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana and even advanced algorithms used by Google and Facebook already have a good idea of who you are, what your preferences are, and more.
The technology that makes Personal Digital Twins possible
The technologies that make the creation of Personal Digital Twins possible are similar to those used in the industrial applications mentioned above. We are talking about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and sophisticated sensors that, in the case of Personal Digital Twins, collect information such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels, body temperature, and even mood through Sentiment Analysis.
Most of these wearable biosensors (WBSs) are common in high-end smartwatches, and it’s expected that as costs come down, they will be available in other devices and even in everyday clothing. This is just to mention non-invasive biosensors, as many experts believe that there will be implants that will enhance our cognitive abilities in the future. In other words, technology exists to both capture our information and process it. That said, how useful are these digital replicas in real life?
Advantages of Personal Digital Twins
In manufacturing and engineering, digital twins proved to be priceless to improve processes and products. What about us? How can we benefit from having a digital twin? Below, we explore some of the most compelling use cases.
- Health care. One of the selling points of smartwatches is the promise of helping us stay healthy. In that sense, you can think of your Personal Digital Twin as an invaluable tool for your health. Since it’s a replica of you that feeds in real-time on all your biometric and cognitive information, it can predict some problems before they affect you. If you suffer from a heart condition, it can alert you to signs of stress, fatigue, elevated heart rate, etc. If you suffer from sugar, it can alert blood glucose levels. Even if you do not suffer from any condition, the stored data can help physicians make more detailed diagnoses and gain a unique insight into the evolution of your health status. Moreover, AI-driven sentiment analysis could detect voice patterns that help psychiatrists and therapists create a more detailed profile of your personality.
- Productivity. Much is said about the relationship between productivity and mood. In fact, In his book A Life Of Productivity, Chris Bailey states that tracking your focus, energy, and motivation throughout the day can help you determine which times are most productive for you. Get the picture? A Personal Digital Twin can collect all that information for you. Furthermore, the digital twin’s algorithm can update productivity curves and adjust them from week to week if necessary. Ultradian rhythms can complement techniques such as those described by Chris Bailey to optimize results further. Just imagine working at your most productive times and making the most of each day without burning out and with minimum stress. How valuable is that to you?
- Superpowers? We all dream of having some kind of superpower. As technology evolves and the relevant ethical conflicts are resolved, it’s very likely that this will be possible, at least to some extent. A Personal Digital Twin is an exact copy of us, and just as it can help us be more productive, it can also learn our habits and responses to repetitive situations. For example, you could delegate your digital twin to answer certain e-mails, fill out forms with personal information, and so on. It would be like a virtual assistant to that extent, but it could be more. You could “train” your digital twin with precise instructions on your point of view on specific issues, and delegate it to attend briefings, answer calls, and more. To that effect, your digital twin could free you from doing boring or low-level tasks so that you can concentrate on what’s really important.
Personal Digital Twins: what to expect from them, risks vs. opportunities
We begin this article by commenting on how science fiction can become a reality. Digital twins are not an idea or an abstract concept; they exist. Because that’s the point, all technologies are converging to complement each other, digital twins, augmented reality, virtual reality, IoT, metaverse, everything. It’s only a matter of time before a manufacturer like Apple, for instance, launches a new service (Siri Pro?) that takes advantage of the incredible computing power of the iPhone to connect with the Apple watch and smart glasses to give you an augmented reality experience with all the benefits described above.
There are countless opportunities in the future as well as risks. One of the concerns at the moment has to do with the privacy of the data collected. Biometric data is extremely sensitive. As we said, they are not only readings; they are also the cognitive data that define our personality. There is still no solution to this problem, but technologies such as the blockchain may be a viable option. The level of encryption of some blockchain-based projects promises to be inviolable, even in the face of the threat of quantum computers.
Whatever the ultimate solution, one thing is sure. A digital twin will show up sooner or later in your work. Are you ready for it?