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Personal Digital Twins: Memes 2.0 – I

Genes and Memes have interesting similarities in the way they evolve. They both inherit and fuse properties/characteristis of their parents. Image credit: Western University of Sydney

I described the evolution of Personal Digital Twins in terms of their capabilities to become a better and better mirror of a person, taking into account more and more characteristics. We are seeing a lot of work in the area of mirroring physical characteristics, an effort that leverages on the growing sets of data available on our body physiology and on the possibility of receiving (quasi) real-time updates.

In the last post of this series I discussed the personal digital twin as a digital representation of the phenotype (visible expression of the “omics”) and this is shifting us to a grey area, the one of representing not just the “functioning” but also the “behaviour” of a person. From behaviour to character, motivation, emotion, culture the trend is visible.

Now let me step into the future and try a bolder leap.

We, humans, are the result of 4 billion years of evolution, just like cats, flatworms, oaks and covid virus. We may not like to be associated to flatworms but that is the case.

However what we see, looking back at our ancestry, is that we, humans, have evolved much more rapidly than cats, as an example. We have very good testimony provided by cats and pharaohs remains from Egyptian tombs that let us see how cats and humans were 5,000 years ago and we can see that cats today are not that different in what they do and live. Quite a different story for humans. An Egyptian cat would be perfectly at ease in today’s world, not so an Egyptian pharaoh. We (our phenotypes) have evolved, and significantly so, cats have not.

Yet, the genotype of ancient Egyptians is not that different from ours. The solution (explanation) to this riddle was proposed by Dawkins (The selfish gene) introducing the concept of meme in evolution.

Memes are similar to genes, the latter are based on DNA, the former on Culture. When we procreate our offspring will inherit part of our genes and part of the genes of the other parent. Similarly, when we have a meme, an idea, this is passed on and mixes with the memes of the receiver (ideas) taking a new shape, i.e. generating a meme that is the confluence of the two.

Evolution happens when three conditions are present:

  1. an abundance of a multiplicity of elements
  2. the elements have the capability to replicate themselves (create copies of themselves)
  3. the copies are not exactly the same (clones) but may differ slightly and are in a context where they can have different degrees of fitness

Notice that, as remarked by Dennett in his (very nice) book “Darwin’s dangerous idea”, these three conditions are not mentioning anywhere the “gene”. Any entity and an ambient that satisfy these conditions is bound to evolution. Memes are, and we are seeing everyday the proof or their evolution.

The growing connectivity provided by the modern infrastructures multiplies the interchange of memes (ideas) and this generates further ideas in a never ending cycle that is accelerating ever more.

Memes are the fuel for the rapid (in evolution scale) changes we are seeing in human societies.

Now, this is my claim, we are on the brink of a further acceleration driven by personal digital twins and artificial intelligence. This is what I call memes 2.0.

I’ll articulate that 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 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.