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What would education be like in 2050? Digital Twins

The many and growing applications of Digital Twins. Notice on the right and side their use in learning. Image credit: Colin J. Parris, GE

A number of industries are creating digital twins, digital replicas of products, like GE, Tesla, NASA. The idea is to mirror a product in bits keeping the bit replica synchronised with the real one. This allows various types of analyses on the digital twin that can provide insight on the real one and lead to corrective actions. In this sense digital twins are a new tool for education: rather than studying on the real thing you can study on its digital representation. Here technologies like virtual reality provide new tools for education.

It goes beyond that. In a way, each of us has several fragments of his own digital twin. Social media like Instagram and Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are collecting parts of our “self”. Governments and municipalities are also collector of parts of our “self”, as well as the health care system and department stores, Amazon… . Companies where we have been working and where we work have other fragments, representing our acquired skills. The education system is also collecting records of what we have learnt.

All these fragments are dispersed and in some Countries there are rules establishing ownership for those fragments. In Italy, as an example, we have the right to access this information and companies physically storing them have to grant us access. Having the right and actually being able to access them, easily, are quite different stories.

In perspective, we should be able to aggregate those fragments into a more comprehensive one, that better represents our “self”. Also, we can easily predict that the number of information about ourselves will grow in time again leading to more and more accurate representation of our “self”. It may be worth mentioning that search engines like Google also have a pretty good representation of our interests, which to a certain extent are a mirror of who we are.

A comprehensive view of digital twins application areas. Notice in the upper right corner the connection with the asset intelligence network including human beings. Credit: SAP

If we imagine a symbiotic relationship, our symbiotic counterpart will form a very good understanding of who we are, sometimes through direct access to what we do jointly, some other times through the access to our digital twin.

In a way our digital twin will come to represent both our knowledge and our skills. It can also be flanked by applications taking into account the fading away of knowledge (what we forget) and skills (what we lose not practicing). This information of our degrading knowledge/skills can be the starting point for a proactive education program.

Writing a article, presenting it to a conference, or reviewing it and joining a conference listening to colleagues can also be mirrored by our digital twin. Education institutions, including IEEE, could contribute to the mirroring of their “students”, “members” into digital twins. These might come handy in creating customised education programs as I will discuss in the next post.

In a symbiotic autonomous system, the knowledge (and skills) is shared among its component systems. This will be reflected by the digital twin of the symbiotic system, integrating the digital twins of its component parts (notice that in complex systems the whole is not necessarily the sum of its part, there is an emergent quality that may not be found in any of its parts) and smart applications may balance the knowledge, the education and the sharing among the various component systems.
If I am living in a symbiotic relation with my appliances at home, the knowledge of what program I am likely to be interested in becomes part of the global knowledge of the symbiotic digital twin, but the knowledge about what programs are available and would fit my interest may lie in an appliance. Notice that Alexa, Siri, Cortana are all moving in this direction. There are now thousands of streaming content to choose from and they are just too many for me to be aware of. Not to mention the millions of YouTube clips, articles, tweets… that can become an integral part of my education process.
Using my digital twin to understand what I know is a starting point.

Suppose I need to learn something. What would be wiser? To learn myself as the human component or to have a tool I am using learning what it takes? I have just bought a very complex digital camera, I started to learn leafing through manuals, watching courses on YouTube, downloading new software to manage the new types of files. I am far from being at ease with the camera and I suspect it will take me a year before becoming used to it, and very likely I will be missing some features and will forgot something I learnt on the way but had not the opportunity of practicing.

If I had a digital twin, he would suffer from the same problems I am having, but that digital twin might be analysed by a smart advisor that could identify knowledge gaps and make up for those by adapting my camera, my smart phone and my computer. In a way, the teaching can go both ways: to me (and my digital twin will reflect my learning or failure to learn) and to the other parts making up the symbiotic autonomous system.  Notice that today I am far from being in a symbiotic relation with my camera, my computer, my smartphone and the related software for what attain to my photographic activities, yet something can be done I terms of education even in this loosely connected environment leveraging on the sketchy digital twin that is starting to mirror my “photographer self” and the connections that can be created with the other, sketchy, digital twins associated to applications, computer, digital camera and smart phone. Each of these digital twins is still a pale instance of the good digital twin we might have in the future but the connections among them are what is missing most. This is something that can be addressed by some innovators, including some specific initiative by IEEE (obviously not related to the case in point I made here but, as example,  to support careers path of its members).

I’ll discuss this in the next post.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.