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From Digital Reality to Reality – IV

A device can augment our senses and make us perceive a reality that would not be within our senses reach. Digital Reality, by processing bits, can create a flow of stimuli to our senses that can create a reality because it makes it perceivable. Image credit: Clipartguide

I pointed out how the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative foresees a seamless “adsorption” of the cyberspace –and of smart machines- in our perceived reality space. Actually, the Initiative foresees a convergence that results in a symbioses of humans and machines but if we look at this from our –human- standpoints it is no longer a symbioses but an adsorption. The reason is that we continue to be –and feel- as our unique self, we will never perceive that our self has abdicated in favour of a super-self (at least this is my opinion, but I am open to discuss different point of views).

So, I can imagine myself in a not too distant future being seamlessly connected to the cyberspace (much more seamlessly than I am today, when I use my smartphone). Prosthetics of different forms will enable this connectivity. I will still be using my eyes and ears for the coming two decades but these senses will be extended in various ways to let the cyberspace become part of my “knowledge space” and “experience space” (further down the lane I am pretty sure that embedded prosthetics and eventually a mixture of prosthetics and genomic engineering will upgrade sensorial capabilities of my great grand children…).

I will -potentially- know everything I may want to know, and even everything that I will need to know here and now (this will take a little more time since it is much more complex), as if I had that knowledge in my brain. Notice that this requires much more than a seamless, proactive, Google Search. If today I search for Maxwell equations I can get them –no problem there- but I will not “understand them” unless I have the needed background. How can a seamless connection transform a physical connectivity into a semantic connectivity?

One way would be to use an intermediary that can fill the gap between raw data (information I do not understand are equivalent to raw data) and something that is meaningful to me. This intermediary has a name: Digital Twin. A person’s Digital Twin is much more than a replica of a person (including experiences and knowledge). It is a platform to rise communications to a semantic level.

Would my Digital Twin be part of me? Would it become part of my “self”?

For sure today we are considering our smartphone, our digital social space as part of us, probably to the extent we consider a “limb” as part of our physical body. Losing data of our digital life is painful (clearly I, and you, would rather lose the smartphone than a limb, but the pain we feel when losing our data compares to a physical pain!), I still see the face of my daughter when she lost the photos of her last 10 years and her happiness when I was able to recover them… Most definitely she felt a part of “her” was lost.

So, I would tend to say that my Digital Twin will become an integral part of me. Not sure about it becoming part of my “self” but not in the sense that I would consider it as an “external” object, rather than I will not perceive it at all! Eventually it will be part of me in the sense that I will be seeing through it, as I am seeing today through my eyes, but also through my glasses and through a microscope. Reality is the same, it is not created by the device I am using (eye, glasses, microscope).

Notice that today we perceive long distant stars as real objects, yet they are a rendering of electromagnetic waves made by computers. Like the recent, wonderful image of the crab nebula, something that has been created by a computer, and yet we feel it as “real” (watch the clip). Similar story for the recent “photo” of the black hole. Our ancestors saw constellations in the sky by supplementing virtual lines created by their brain to what they were seeing as point of light.

The point I am trying to make here is that the Digital Twin will be providing us with a perception of reality that will be created out of bits (and atoms that generated part of those bits).

This, assuming I am (almost) right, opens up a can of worms (and I would like you to think and have your saying on this):

  • Different personal Digital Twins are most likely to create different “realities”. This might not be different from what we always had, different brains exposed to the same “facts” can drive quite different perception of reality. Digital Twins may just make this even more frequent and more difficult to intercept…
  • The Digital Twin extraction of semantics (and its delivery to our brain) will be based on some third party services and it is not clear what kind of control a person can have on that and what transparency on the processes making semantics emerge will be available. Again, this is not completely new, today we access data through a search engine and search engines have become –potentially- the most effective way to hide information, facts and reality –whatever this latter is!-. Think about it: you google for something and you get a list of pointers plus the indication that there are a further 3 million of pointers. Would you go and look at all of them? Surely not. As long as the first appearing in the first (or second third) page satisfy you … that’s it. Wait. If I do a search I will most likely get a different list of pointers on the first page from the one you will get. The ranking is biased by the searching engine knowledge of who we are, what we are interested with. Hence the data, upon which I will perceive reality, will be different from person to person…

More to come …

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 New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. 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.