Like a raging wildfire, the concept of digital twins is now engulfing the individual space. Originated as an industrial concept, digital twin applications are extending into understanding the biological species. Healthcare to sports. Education to environment. Marketing to social interactions. New ideas of digital twins for individuals, are popping up every day.
How could a digital twin impact your life? What are the use cases around the corner? Why should you care about them? Let’s explore.
Digital twins started as an industrial idea. Technological breakthroughs, like IoT, helped in gathering finer aspects of physical assets. New data management capabilities, like Big Data and Cloud Computing, enabled processing and storing massive volumes of data. Stronger analytics and visualisation techniques, like AI and 3D simulation, furthered our understanding of the asset’s life-cycle. The underlying diagnostics and prognostics capabilities, by combining existing and emerging technologies, ignited the minds to develop innovative digital twin use cases for the industries.
Our Digital Lives
The past twenty-odd years brought an unprecedented change in human history. The convergence of social, mobile and cloud technologies transformed us into digital natives. It’s no longer a question of physical vs digital, rather online vs offline. Digital engulfed our lives. And we happily immersed ourselves in the digital world. Devices extend individuals’ capabilities. Today, my Facebook talks to your Facebook to plan for a virtual meet up. Teacher is a video hosted in some obscure corner of the world. Digitally grown trees boost concentration. And best friend is an algorithm providing unconditional love.
Based on the trails we’ve left in the digital world, it’s now possible to build a digital “persona” of an individual. A digital twin of the individual that knows your preferences, mood swings, and health condition. As humans are grappling to differentiate between reality and fantasy, we are already at the cusp of the next wave of change. Newer technologies — Automation, Artificial General Intelligence and Brain-Computer Interface – are developing at a faster rate, and set to strengthen (or weaken) the thread linking our physical self to the digital persona.
The Evolving State of Digital Twins
Today, digital twins are being explored for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Government-to-Citizen (G2C) services. On the B2C, real-time information collected from the athletes is being explored for building a digital twin of the athlete. Replaying their performance at a granular level, understanding improvement areas and providing helpful insights are on the cards. Likewise, in the health sector, doctors and surgeons are using digital twins to determine the best course of action – how to conduct surgeries or simulate the effect of a medicine on the patient first.
Marketing teams are building digital personas to better understand their buyers. Tracking intentions and influencing prospective buyers’ real time will be any marketer’s dream. Digital twins train individuals on the as-is state without worrying about disturbing a production set-up. Environmental agencies use digital twins to gather data, track, and conserve individuals of endangered species. Governmental agencies are studying the behaviour of citizens in relation to infrastructure for planning and disaster management.
Exploring the nascent concept, enterprises and governments are building digital representations of the physical world and the individuals to start with. From the initial stages of visualization, as technology and capability improve, the next version of digital twins may have partial autonomy built into it. The partially autonomous twin will be like a rule-based or inference-based engine, taking autonomous decisions for preset conditions. One day, a full autonomous twin may out-survive us in the digital space.
Are We Ready Yet?
The need to digitise physical assets for efficient design, development and operations led to the emergence of the digital twin concept. Creating a twin for an inorganic asset differs vastly from an organic being. We will encounter many conflicting questions and hurdles along the path. Legal, ethical, privacy and data security issues will have the societies divided on their opinions.
There are of benefits in having a digital twin with an element of autonomy. Imagine a twin attending that dreadful meeting on your behalf and reporting the summary to you. Think of a twin taking care of your next travel arrangements independently, fully knowing your preferences. Or, your twin constantly engages with your spouse to keep the marriage healthy. The big question will be, where do we draw the line? As Nelson Mandela said, “It’s a long walk to freedom”. The journey has begun. Is it freedom or bondage at the end of the walk? Time will tell.
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