A digital twin is a copy of a person, product, or process that is created using data. This might sound like science fiction, but some have claimed that you will likely have a digital double within the next decade.
a copy of a person, a digital twin would – ideally – make the same
decisions that you would make if you were presented with the same
This might seem like yet another speculative claim by futurists. But it is much more possible than people might like to believe.
While we might tend to assume that we are special and unique, with a sufficient amount of information, artificial intelligence (AI) can make many inferences about our personalities, social behavior, and purchasing decisions.
The era of big data means that vast quantities of information (called "data lakes") are collected about your overt attitudes and preferences as well as behavioral traces that you leave behind.
Equally jarring is the extent to which organizations collect our data. In 2019, the Walt Disney Company acquired Hulu, a company that journalists and advocates pointed out had a questionable record when it came to data collection.
Seemingly benign phone applications – like ones used for ordering coffee – can collect vast quantities of data from users every few minutes.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal illustrates
these concerns, with users and regulators concerned about the prospects
of someone being able to identify, predict and shift their behavior.
But how concerned should we be?
High vs. low fidelity
In simulation studies, fidelity refers to how closely a copy, or model, corresponds to its target. Simulator fidelity refers to the degree of realism a simulation has to real-world references.
For example, a racing video game provides an image that increases and
decreases in speed when we depress keys on a keyboard or controller.
a driving simulator might have a windscreen, chassis, gear stick, and
gas and brake pedals, a video game has a lower degree of fidelity than
the driving simulator.
A digital twin requires
a high degree of fidelity that would be able to incorporate real-time,
real-world information: If it is raining outside now, it would be
raining in the simulator.
industry, digital twins can have radical implications. If we are able
to model a system of human and machine interaction, we have the ability
to allocate resources, anticipate shortages and breakdowns, and make projections.
A human digital twin would
incorporate a vast quantity of data about a person's preferences,
biases, and behaviors, and be able to have information about a user's
immediate physical and social environment to make predictions.
These requirements mean that achieving a true digital
twin are a remote possibility for the near future. The amount of
sensors required to accumulate the data and process capacity necessary
to maintain a virtual model of the user would be vast. In the present,
developers settle for a low-fidelity model.
a digital twin raises social and ethical issues concerning data
integrity, a model's prediction accuracy, the surveillance capacities
required to create and update a digital twin, and ownership and access
to a digital twin.
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is frequently quoted as saying, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," implying that numbers cannot be trusted.
data collected about us relies on gathering and analyzing statistics
about our behaviors and habits to make predictions about how we would
behave in given situations.
This sentiment reflects a misunderstanding about how statisticians gather and interpret data, but it does raise an important concern.
One of the most important ethical issues with a digital twin relates to the quantitative fallacy, which assumes that numbers have an objective meaning divorced from their context.
When we look at numbers, we often forget that they have specific meanings that come from the measurement instruments used to collect them. And a measurement instrument might work in one context but not another.
collecting and using data, we must acknowledge that the selection
includes certain features and not others. Often, this selection is done
out of convenience or due to the practical limitations of technology.
must be critical of any claims based on data and artificial
intelligence because the design decisions are not available to us. We
must understand how the data were collected, processed, used, and
The imbalance of power is a growing discussion in the public, concerning data, privacy, and surveillance.
At smaller scales, this can produce or increase digital divides — the gap between those who do and those who do not have access to digital technologies. At larger scales, this threatens a new colonialism premised on access to and control of information and technology.
the creation of low-fidelity digital twins provides opportunities to
monitor users, make inferences about their behavior, attempt to
influence them, and represent them to others.
subjects do not have access to the same resources as large corporations
and governments. They lack the time, training, and perhaps the
motivation. There is a need for consistent and independent oversight to
ensure that our digital rights are preserved.