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Our Digital Twin

Computer Science is ever evolving. The new kid on the block is a ‘digital twin’. Interesting, isn’t it? What does this twin do? It is a virtual replica or representation of a physical object, a system, or a process. It fuses artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), metaverse, and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to create digital models of real-world objects, systems, or processes. It mirrors the characteristics, behaviour, and attributes of real-world counterpart in real time, using data and sensor inputs, from the physical objects to simulate and mimic its behaviour, enabling analysis, monitoring, and predictive capabilities. They can also be virtual copies of buildings, manufacturing plants, cities and virtually anything. What does one gain by doing this? The organizations can gain valuable insights into the performance, maintenance, and optimization of physical entities.

There is an interesting story, involving a virtual assistant that can tell us more about a digital twin. Some five years ago, an AI powered chatbot named ‘Tay’ was introduced on twitter by Microsoft. It was designed to engage in conversations with users and learn from their interactions to improve its responses. That experiment however, took an unexpected turn when trolls and users deliberately asked ‘Tay’ some inappropriate and offensive questions, causing it to give out offensive and controversial tweets. It soon spiralled out of control when, it began tweeting racist, sexist, and inflammatory statements. Result was that Microsoft had to shut down ‘Tay’ within 24 hours, to prevent further damage. What is the lesson in it for us? Beware of the potential risks and challenges associated with AI-based virtual assistants. It is important to carefully manage and train them to avoid unintended consequences that are both moral and ethical. Digital Twins too are similar.

Digital twins find applications across industries such as, manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, energy, and urban planning offering benefits such as predictive maintenance, improved operational efficiency, enhanced product design and development, and better decision-making based on real-time data and simulations.

If Digital Twin, is a virtual replica of a physical object or system, can we create a virtual replica of ourselves? If GOD made the original, why can’t we make a copy? However, it is currently WIP. Creating a Digital Twin of a human being will need data such as medical records, genetic information, measurements, such as heart rate, blood pressure, CT or MRI scans. Such data is then integrated and organized into a cohesive model. Creating a computational model based on mathematical equations, algorithms, or machine learning techniques, that represent human body is the next step. The model will then simulate the behaviour of the human being. Validation is against real-world observations from wearable sensors, IoT devices, or other monitoring technologies. An iterative process that allows refinement and optimization of the model will eventually create a digital twin, of ourselves.

While there are instances of creating digital representations of human organ models or physiological simulations, creating an accurate digital twin of a human being is extremely challenging. It would require capturing and integrating massive amount of data from multiple sources.

Digital twin in health care for human beings is extremely promising. Personalized medicine, predicting disease risks, optimizing treatment plans, simulating the effects of different interventions or medications, disease prevention, early detection, health monitoring, wellness management, predictive analytics, proactive healthcare, virtual clinical trials, medical education and training, remote healthcare and telemedicine, simulating drug responses, surgical procedures, or disease progression to assist in personalized treatment plans are all possible. They rely on data-driven algorithms and computational simulations to approximate the behaviour of specific aspects of humans. The EU- funded ‘Neurotwin’ project aims to simulate specific human brains in order to build models that can predict the best treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy. One notable example of digital twin in entertainment is its utilization in the field of visual effects (VFX) and animation.

Human psychology is dynamic in nature and human mind is highly complex. Though creating a real-time digital twin of a human being, is significantly distant, some ethical concerns, related to privacy, data ownership, and consent must be addressed. Of course, the ultimate vision for the digital twin is to create, test and build any equipment in a virtual environment. Only when we get it to where it performs to our requirements, do we physically manufacture it.

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