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Cognitive Digital Twins: bridging minds and machine – X: CDT and Me

As CDTs become more performant and autonomous a variety of issues come to the fore. Image credit: IEEE DRI

Cognitive Digital Twins open up a whole new world. In these last 300 years we have developed amazing machines (our ancestors invented levers, the inclined plane, cogs, wheels, pullers and mills but the age of machines, as we understand them today, started with the industrial revolution as we learnt to use steam and later electricity) and in the last fifty years computers have enabled much more sophisticated machines. These machines have “augmented” our physical capabilities multiplying them a thousandfold.

This augmentation has also resulted in “substitution”: many jobs have been automated, blue collars replaced by robots, and this has raised societal issues (mechanisation, that preceded automation, also created significant societal issues to the point of transforming society in both goods production and consumption…).

Up to few years ago we were comfortable in the distinction between physical activities that we have long accepted could be aided and replaced by machines and “mental” activities (creativity, reasoning, decision … emotion) that have been felt characterising humans. We actually turned this around by saying that machines cannot perform this kind of activities since these are typically “human”. However, artificial intelligence, the huge increase in processing power and the invention of a plethora of sensors able to mirror in bits the physical environment and whatever happens in that environment have demonstrated that those “human” activities could be executed by machines.

This has opened up a can of worm, or if you are on the positive side, a Pandora box of possibilities along with brand new societal and ethical issues.

In the same way as Digital Twins are bridging the physical world with the cyberspace, the Cognitive Digital Twins can bridge the “mental” space, the mind,  with the mental capabilities of machines, intelligence with artificial intelligence and this opens up a whole new set of issues. You can hear a discussion on some of these issues in the recent DRI Webinar on “Digital Twins: Ethical and Societal Impacts“.

As represented in the graphic, the more powerful CDTs become the trickier the issues we have to face. These are of two kinds:

  • what relations I can have with my CDT
  • what relations my CDT has with third parties (including ownership aspects)

What kind of relation exists between me and mine CDT?

It is really a tricky question. People wearing a prosthetic can reach a point where they feel the prosthetic an integral part of themselves. It is no longer me vs my prosthetics, it is all about me. Once the connection between the CDT and my “mind” becomes seamless and “normal” (that will take some time but in the next decade it can become the norm) we might lose the separation between us and our CDT. If you think about it, today we may feel at loss when for some reason we are disconnected from our smartphone. Indeed, our smartphone has some CDT characteristics (it is the one remembering the phone numbers of our acquaintances, our schedule, even our past moments -photos) so it is not a surprise that we might take it for granted on one side and feel at loss if it is not within reach.

In a few years we are going to have augmented reality as an everyday experience, we will be perceiving the world through AR in a seamless way and most likely mediated by our CDT. It will become our language to understand the world. Memories will be aggregated in the CDT, as today’s Amazon picks up some photos we stored on their cloud and push them to our attention after 10-20 years.

Once the CDT becomes “me”, or an aspect of “me”, it will become natural to use it as a proxy. In these last two years I gave many talks using video-conference, something that is separating me from my audience, in perceptual terms. In several occasion I recorded my presentation and it was my recording that was played at some of these remote/disseminated events. Assuming I can have a CDT it would make sense to delegate some presentations to it. It will be better than a recording, since it would be able to interact with the audience. However this raises the issue of accountability.

> Shall I be accountable for what my CDT is saying?
> Shall my CDT use only my knowledge space when it is acting as my proxy (i.e. not use any additional knowledge it might have acquired)? The affermative answer would seem a pre-requisite if I ma to be accountable. On the other hand if information is available that would change the CDT behaviour shouldn’t that be used? Should I be considered accountable if I am forcing my CDT to ignore that additional information?

As my CDT interacts with the audience, it will learn / experience something thus it will no longer be in synch with me, we have been living different “lives” even for just some little periods of time.

> How will the CDT transfer the independently acquired knowledge/experience to me? And, most crucial, is this actually possible?

Since my CDT has my knowledge and experience I could use it to do part of my job, I could even think about selling part of my CDT to someone seeking that kind of experience. Notice that this is different from using my CDT as a proxy, like to do some consultancy on my behalf: this is about “selling” my experience/knowledge in such a way that it can be integrated in somebody’s else CDT to “upgrade” that CDT knowledge space.

As a matter of fact I could even think of selling (part of) my CDT to a company for having it integrated in that company’s CDT. Notice also that it is not about “selling a book” containing our knowledge, it is about packaging our knowledge and our ability to execute it.

The reverse also applies: could I buy knowledge and experience embedding that in my CDT so that I can use it? This come really close to my dream, as a kid, to download knowledge onto my brain!

The divergence of a CDT from an actual physical entity is opening up some slippery slopes: if the question was “am I separated from my CDT or we are both a single entity?” now the question is “my extended CDT is actually changing me as a person (or a company)?

This is not actually an out of the blue question. If I enrol in a course I probably will end up knowing more, and changing my way of executing knowledge, so actually that course changes who I am. Extending my CDT, likewise, may end up changing who I am.  It might be just a bit more scaring….

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.