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DT evolution in Manufacturing – VI

Personal Digital Twins are new on the Digital Twins landscape but they are fast growing in capabilities and adoption. The graphics outlines the four main stages of evolution and their correspondence to application areas, from a pure copy of a person that can be used for study and simulation up to becoming an avatar of that person. Image credit: IEEE FDC DRI

As should be clear from the previous discussion Digital Twins are a powerful and flexible way to represent salient characteristics of a physical entity and they have been evolving fast extending their reach to represents an ever larger variety of physical entities.

One might wonder if they would also be suitable to represent a person. Indeed, this is not a hypothetical question since we already have a number of examples of digital twins used to represent parts of the characteristics of a person.

As an example Dassault has created a digital model of a human heart and it is looking into extending it into a Digital Twin by creating a shadowing using data from wearable (measuring heart beat and monitoring the electrical activity of the heart) and keeping the thread. It is not alone. The pharma industry is routinely using organi simulation and fluidic chips, organ on a chip, to experiment with drugs. This chips have an associated digital twin and there is interest in using this digital twin, through instantiation, as previously described, to monitor living human organs reaction to drug protocols. There is even a name for this type of Digital Twins: Deep Twins.

Through aggregation (this is already happening in Pharma with the shift from organ-on-a-chip to body-on-a-chip) we might expect to have a digital model that can mimics the physiology of the body that can be instantiated to create a Person Digital Twin -PDT- mirroring the physiology of a specific person, enriched with genomic data (DNA sequencing) and with a thread recording the healthcare history of that person. By connecting this PDT to the person’s body using wearable and other types of ambient sensors we would have a full blown PDT.

We are not there yet, but we already have some limited (in terms of mirrored characteristics) kind of PDT in the healthcare sector supporting very concrete and useful applications.

Obviously a “person” is much more than its physiology! The physical shape of a person is also another characteristics that may or may not be important. As an example if you are looking for an apparel, a t-shirt or a pair of shoe, your physical shape is very important. On the other hand, if you are applying for a job -like data analysts- your body shape, your sex and even your physiological characteristics are all be irrelevant. What would matter, to you and your employer, is the type of skill, experience and knowledge you can put on the table.

Historically, particularly in the Westerns world, we have got used to distinguish between the body and the mind (soul). It is not the place to enter into a discussion on this but it is important to notice that the representation of the aspects related to the physical versus the cognitive sphere differs significantly. 

Indeed, the work on extending the Digital Twin to a person have resulted in the identification of the Cognitive Digital Twin of a person, to represent the knowledge, moods, character, feelings …, and the more general PDT that may or may not include the soft aspect of a person.

Hence with the concept of PDT we refer to digitally mimicking certain aspects of a person, and we need to specify what these aspects are. With CDT we are only referring to the cognitive aspects, and again we need to specify the extent of mirroring being done.

In the case of PDTs it makes sense to take a pragmatic approach and look at the way these may be used to outline the evolution roadmap. Although the roadmap looks similar the the evolution roadmap of Digital Twin, the emphases here is on the application and on the issues deriving from their application.

As shown in the graphic, we can compare the PDT evolution with the DT evolution

  • at stage 2 we have a copy of certain characteristic of a specific person, such as the ones derived from the sequencing of the genome of a person -used as an example to define a drug protocol for breast cancer (the first stage would be one where we only have a generic model of some person’s characteristics, like the ne used in Pharma for testing drugs on a chip);
  • at stage 3 the PDT may become a sort of prosthetic flanking the physical person and interacting with it;
  • at stage 4 the PDT can take over some aspect of the person augmenting the person (like a PDT that can harvest information on the web and make it available when needed);
  • at stage 5 the PDT can behave as an avatar of that person acting as a proxy in the cyberspace (and possibly interacting with the physical space on behalf of the person.

This can be the case in manufacturing where the PDT of a technician can provide support in the shop floor (both to machines and to other workers) with no need of presence of the physical person and,, in principle, without the physical person being aware of the activity of her avatar.

It is obvious that the higher the stage and the trickier the management of the PDT as well as the ethical issue faced.

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.