- Jane Wakefield
- Technology journalist
Most of us have already heard that we had a double, a stranger crossed in the street who looked strangely like them.
But imagine if you could create your own twin, an exact copy of yourself, but who would live 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.
Like the hugely hyped metaverse – the project of a virtual, digital world where an avatar of yourself walks around – digital twins have become a new technology trend that spill a lot of ink.
A digital twin is an exact replica of an object in the physical world, but with a unique mission: to help improve the real version or provide feedback to it.
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Originally, these twins were just fancy 3D computer models, but artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things – which uses sensors to connect physical objects to the network – have made it possible to create an object digital that constantly learns from its real counterpart and helps it improve.
Technology analyst Rob Enderle thinks we’ll have the first versions of thinking human digital twins “before the end of the decade”.
“The emergence of these will require an enormous amount of thought and ethical consideration, as a thinking replica of ourselves could be incredibly helpful to employers,” he says.
“What will happen if your company creates a digital twin of you and says ‘hey, you have this digital twin that we don’t pay any salary to, so why are we still employing you’?
Mr. Enderle believes that the ownership of these digital twins will become one of the defining questions of the impending era of metaverses.
We’ve already begun the journey to human pairing – in the form of the avatars mentioned above – but these are currently rather clunky and primitive.
In Horizon Worlds, the virtual reality platform from Meta (formerly Facebook), for example, you 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. beginnings.
Professor Sandra Wachter, senior AI researcher at Oxford University, understands the appeal of creating digital twins of humans: “It’s reminiscent of thrilling science fiction novels, and for now it’s is where we are at.”
She adds that whether a person “does well in school, gets sick, or commits a crime will depend on the ever-debated question of ‘nature versus nurture’.
It will depend on luck and bad luck, friends, family, socio-economic background and environment, and of course personal choices.”
However, she explains, AI is not yet able to predict these “unique social events, due to their inherent complexity. And so, we have a long way to go until we can understand and model a person’s life from start to finish, assuming it’s ever possible.”
Rather, it is in the areas of product design, distribution and urban planning that the use of digital twins is currently the most sophisticated and widespread.
In Formula 1, the McLaren and Red Bull teams use digital twins of their racing cars.
Meanwhile, delivery giant DHL is creating a digital map of its warehouses and supply chains to boost efficiency.
Increasingly, our cities are reproduced in the digital world; Both Shanghai and Singapore have digital twins, set up to help improve the design and operation of buildings, transport systems and streets.
In Singapore, one of the tasks of its digital twin is to help find new ways to get around, avoiding areas of pollution. Other places are using technology to suggest where to build new infrastructure, like subway lines. In the Middle East, new cities are being built simultaneously in the real world and in the digital world.
French software company Dassault Systemes says its digital twin technology is now attracting the interest of thousands of businesses.
So far, she’s used digital twins to help a hair-care company digitally design more durable shampoo bottles, instead of endless real-world prototyping. This helps reduce waste.
And it allows other companies to design new futuristic projects – from jetpacks to motorcycles with floating wheels, to flying cars. Each of them also has a physical prototype, but the refinement of this initial model is done in digital space.
But it is in the field of health that digital twins present a real added value.
Dassault’s Living Heart Project has created an accurate virtual model of a human heart that can be tested and analyzed.
The project was founded by Dr. Steve Levin, who had personal reasons for wanting to create a digital twin. His daughter was born with congenital heart disease and a few years ago, when she was in her twenties and at high risk of heart failure, he decided to recreate her heart in virtual reality.
Boston Children’s Hospital is now using this technology to map the heart pathologies of real patients, while at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, a team of engineers is working with clinicians to test devices that could help children with rare and difficult to treat heart conditions.
Experimenting with a digital heart also has the effect of reducing the need for animal testing, one of the most controversial aspects of scientific research, says Séverine Trouillet, director of international affairs at Dassault.
The company is now planning other digital organ twins, including the eye and even the brain.
“At some point, we will all have a digital twin, which will allow us to go to the doctor, do more and more preventive medicine and ensure that each treatment is personalized,” says Ms. Trouillet.
The race to build a digital version of our entire planet is perhaps even more ambitious than the reproduction of human organs.
US software company Nvidia runs a platform called Omniverse, designed to create virtual worlds and digital twins.
One of his most ambitious projects is to build a digital look-alike of the Earth, capturing high-resolution images of its entire surface.
Earth-2, as it is called, will use a combination of deep learning models and neural networks to mimic physical environments in the digital sphere and deliver solutions to climate change.
In March this year, the European Commission, in collaboration with the European Space Agency in particular, announced its own project to create a digital twin of the planet, called Destination Earth.
By the end of 2024, she hopes to have enough data from real-time observations and simulations to create a digital twin that will focus on floods, droughts and heat waves, as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.