By Patrick Henz, Head of Governance & Compliance, Regional Compliance Officer Americas. First published 2019…
Gianluca Bacchiega shortly defined in 2017: “A digital twin is a real time digital replica of a physical device.” To be more specific, the IEEE’s work-group for Symbiotic Autonomous Systems defined in its second white paper (PDF, 6 MB): “a Digital Twin is a digital representation of any characteristics of a real entity, including human beings. The characteristics represented by a Digital Twin are a subset of the overall characteristics of a real entity. The choice of which characteristics are digitalized depends on the purpose of the digitalization, i.e., the intended use of the Digital Twin.” Based on this definition, the virtual model is not limited to being the second (replica), but instead understands it as a digital mirror of a physical object (including a living organism) or process.
Creating a Digital Twin requires two steps:
- The Digital Model, an original creation of the model, which should understand, predict and / or optimize (based on General Electric’s definition of a Digital Twin) a real or fictive object or process. This step includes a first data model, a set of analytics or algorithms, and knowledge.
- Digital Shadowing connects both related objects or processes. The Digital Twin receives continuous data from the physical world. The Digital Model processes this Big Data to convert it into Smart Data.
The idea of the Digital Model reaches back to the last century and the works of the business consultant W. Edwards Deming, who understood production sites and whole companies, including providers, partners and clients, as one holistic system. In his concept of “Profound Knowledge” he underlined the importance to understand the system and the consequences of variations. Doing so, he anticipated the idea of the Digital Twin, as he demanded before a change in the physical system that management has to understand and predict the consequences of this change. Today’s possibilities of the Internet-of-Things enable to add Digital Shadowing to his approach, the required step to implement the Digital Twin.
In opposite to the physical object, the Digital Twin is not only one, but there can be numerous copies, including smaller or bigger variations. “The characteristics represented by a Digital Twin are a subset of the overall characteristics of a real entity.” The variation still represents the physical counterpart, only with slight differences. As Deming understood external factors as part of the system, such a variation could also include different external stakeholders or environmental changes.
The original idea of Digital Shadowing suggests a flow of information from the physical into the digital world. As both worlds are merging, also the different twins interchange data with each other. The physical object sends real-time data to the Digital Twins (the exact replica, but also the variations). If one of the variations delivers sustainable better results than the replica, this information will trigger a change in the physical world. If this modification is limited to software settings, the Digital Twin can autonomously (using a decision making process including responsible algorithms) adjust them. If physical changes are required, the Digital Twin informs the organization to advise.
Wikipedia defines experimental archaeology as “a field of study which attempts to generate and test archaeological hypotheses, usually by replicating or approximating the feasibility of ancient cultures performing various tasks or feats.” Scientists use different fragments as ruins, objects and even legends to create a theoretical model. As many factors are unknown, the archaeologists include their own theories to complete the model. Now in the second step, the model receives a real-world twin, as a group of scientific staff tries practically to reconstruct antique ships, settlements or manufacturing processes with the existing knowledge and tools from the specific time-period. The results from the physical world get used to make the theoretical model more realistic and in return, the updated system advises again the work-group.
In a general concept, the Digital Twin receives its input from regular or on-time inspections, plus the continuous flow of information (collected by sensors and sent as Big Data). All of these solutions not only work for machines, but also living organisms, as the data can come from healthcare practitioners and the individual itself, provided by wearables or even implants. These devices monitor, update and / or keep up existing human processes. To do so, they send information to, but also receive it from a Digital Twin. Known as Symbiotic Autonomous Systems (SAS), the combination of human & machines makes it possible to maximize the efficiency of internal processes thanks to a virtual model.
Already today, doctors and insurance companies not only collect information about past & present treatments & checkups (including diseases of direct family members), but also actual habits, as smoking, regular work-out or extreme sports. Technology makes it possible to combine the different sources of information and elaborate a transparent Digital Twin of the individual.
The model enables doctors to achieve a better understanding of the patient’s conditions, including relations between different symptoms to estimate risks and opportunities. Such a holistic philosophy is nothing new, in fact it is the foundation of traditional Chinese Medicine. The earliest evidence found is from the Shang dynasty (14th Century BCE). In opposite to the typical Western approach, the Chinese vision understands the body as one, where all parts are interconnected. To be healthy, it is required to be in equilibrium, similar to Yin & Yang. A result of this philosophy is acupuncture, where a needle used at one particular point of the body has a positive influence on an organ or other part of the body. Even if statistics could not confirm these theories, they survived and even spread all over the world, where doctors and patients trust in this treatment and report positive results.
Similar to the usage in manufacturing, Digital Twins support healthcare practitioners to conduct a diagnosis and elaborate an adequate treatment. Furthermore, the doctor may predict potential future diseases or vulnerabilities, including different scenarios for potential interventions. Predictive treatments are in the individual’s best interest. On the other hand, this information may maximize the profit insurance companies achieve with their clients. Often insurance companies cooperate with employers. To reduce general fees, companies may request their employees to change unhealthy habits and start with regular work-out. This controlled by with wearables.
In their article “How our body influences our perception of the world” the authors explain that the body directly influences perception (taste, sight, touch, smell, sound), as the various shapes and attributes lead to different sensors. The perception varies further based on the orientation (standing, sitting, lying, …) of the body.
Individuals with efficient sensors not only perform given tasks more precisely, but also in the processing of information come to different results, for example under- or over-estimating of risks. Besides this direct relation, different sensors may lead even to different values and attitudes.
The cyborg-concept came from science fiction and is mostly still here to find, nevertheless cyborgs already live among us. Most of them updated their-selves to overcome a natural disadvantage, as for example color blindness or even blindness in general. But other individuals use the technological possibilities to enhance them with senses completely new for humans. Such additional senses are part of an artistic movement, as the example of the Spanish artist Moon Ribas, who implemented a chip to add a seismic sense. Thanks to this technology she is connected to a mobile app and can feel in real-time earthquakes, independent where they are on planet. Based on cyborg philosophy, a human can, supported with implemented high tech technology, reach a closer relationship with nature and planet Earth. Here SAS connects again with Deming and his System of Profound Know, as one of its four pillars is the psychology of the human element inside the system. In his own words: “A bad system will beat a good person every time”. It confirms Moon Ribas’ concept that with adding a new sensor to the human system, it changes the individual’s mindset to become a different person.
That way having a complete Digital Twin of the employee may tempt organizations to use this information for hiring and career-planning. This not only may violate local data privacy laws, but also open up ethical pitfalls. Superficially, concepts explain that the different attributes lead to different strengths and weaknesses, but theories are only valid until they get disproved. Consciously or subconsciously, the developer of the prediction models may include biases into the algorithm, which lead to improper decisions for the career-planning of the single employees. Furthermore it may pressure employees to upgrade them-selves with the usage of implants and connect their-selves with a Digital Twin. Such updates may make sense for the first astronauts travelling to Mars, but in the average office-space or factory are questionable.
- Bacciega, Gianluca (2017): “Developing an embedded Digital Twin”
- Dambrot, S. Mason / de Kerchove, Derrick / Flammini, Francesco / Kinsner, Witold / MacDonald Glenn / Linda / Saracco, Roberto (2018): “Symbiotic Autonomous Systems White Paper II” (PDF, 6 MB)
- Deming, W. Edwards (1986): “Out of the Crisis”
- General Electric (fetched 22.12.2018): “Digital Twin”
- Harris, Laurence R. / Carnevale, Michael J. / D’Amour, Sarah / Fraser, Lindsey E. / Harrar, Vanessa / Hoover, Adria E.N. / Mander, Charles / Pritchett, Lisa M. (2015): “How our body influences our perception of the world”
- Henz, Patrick (2017): “The Neuroprediction Compliance Dilemma”
- Henz, Patrick (2018): “Tomorrow’s Business Ethics – Dick vs. Deming”
- Quito, Anne (2016): “Sixth Sense – This woman, a self-described cyborg, can sense every earthquake in real time.”
- Saracco, Roberto (2018): “Digital Twins”