Part 2 of the Series, “Of Monkeys, Mice and Men: From Natural Bodies to Digitized Bots”
One emerging framework within the massive scope of digital transformation — riding in on the crowned Trojan horse of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — is Digital Twins (DTs). In June 2017, Ben Rossi of Raconteur, defined digital twinning as “the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform.” In its simplest explanation, digital twins digitize the physical world. The approach of using a digital replica of its original physical representation can be applied to nearly any sector of business and society, and integrates big data (captured via embedded sensors), machine-to-machine communication, and machine-learning technology.
Digital twin technology has been practiced since the 1960s, first gaining ground by NASA in space programming. The actual terminology of “digital twin” was reportedly first mentioned in 1998, referring to a digital copy of actor Alan Alda’s voice.
In this essay, I am focusing on one small element in the field of digital twinning, involving healthcare and bioinformatics, and the merging of these two domains within the context of purported epidemics.
In 2018, Paul E. Jacobs, founder of XCOM Labs (provider of wireless communications solutions), predicted that within a decade, we may be working with an avatar or a Digital Twin (DT). When watching Jacobs in an interview with CNBC (December 2020) in this regard, I could not help but see a highly sterile environment behind him. Is this a sign of things to come?
In the fall of 2013, when Paul Jacobs was CEO and Chairman of Qualcomm Incorporated, he delivered a Regents’ Lecture at UC Berkeley on the “Digital Sixth Sense” (see video above). He defined the digital 6th sense as the augmentation of human ability: “We all have a digital life, we have a presence in cyber space. And not only that but there is virtual cyber information, digital information that’s associated with the real world that we’re in. We just don’t perceive it directly. And it’s natural to us that we carry our phones around. . . So the idea in the future, I believe is that we will blur the lines between cyber space and real space. And you will stop thinking about there being a bright line between those two things. And the phone and other devices will be the things that cause that line to be blurred for you — to the point where you know, where you will augment reality. And we were having discussions early on today about interfaces between your brain and electronics . . . ”
In the 2013 Regents’ Lecture, Jacobs described that one limitation of the sensor-laden augmentation of reality was that the implementation thus far has been “siloed” and not centralized enough. At around the 35-minute time stamp, he expressed that he feels the most important application of this digital augmentation is in the field of healthcare. Jacobs also explained how Qualcomm has already built a central hub that integrates medical devices, because they all share wireless connectivity. He went on to describe the use of wearable biometric devices, and how sensors will be in our body to detect and report on biomarkers. He emphasized that seamless digital interactivity is the goal, where the cyber world and the real world will merge effortlessly.
One area of healthcare in which human-computer interaction will be paramount — involving the use of digital twins — is in the booming sector of wellness, and more specifically, “Smart Coaching” (AKA DT Coaching). As a wellness coach myself, this is intensely serious and personal to me. I do NOT approve of where the digitalized, artificial version of the wellness field is heading. The stakes are high, as the biometric data captured from humans may serve the gaming and profit objectives of stakeholders — eclipsing any proclaimed benefits for the wellness recipient. The goal of this machine learning-based digital twin platform will be to transform the current preventive wellness model to a predictive (and ultimately, precision) model, integrating algorithms, sensors, and haptic actuators. The exponential growth of smart wearable technology, in tandem with advances in machine learning, is enabling this insidious technology to come to fruition. For more information on the central players and impact investors in the field of wearable health tech, see this LittleSis map created on December 24, 2020 by Alison McDowell of wrenchinthegears.com.
The application of digital doppelgängers to healthcare is depicted more clearly in this six-minute film produced in 2018 by the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre and CompBioMed H2020 Centre of Excellence in Computational Biomedicine, led by University College London. Further, this document “The Virtual Human Project,” published June 12, 2001 by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (funded by the US Department of Energy), details an early version of virtual human simulation as applied to the human respiratory system.
To achieve full integration of digital twins requires seamless and scalable biometric connectivity, and will eventually necessitate the augmentation of the human body, beginning with wearable technology. This will become ubiquitous, and ultimately will merge with embedded augmentation to enhance connectivity and data collection capabilities. The use of integrated pacemakers with digital twin hearts has already been practiced in multiple iterations, as described here in February 2016. A more technical description of “The Living Heart Project” — led by Dassault Systèmes — is provided here.
Incidentally, Medidata Solutions (a Dassault Systèmes company) partnered with Moderna in its rollout of their mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine. Please note that Moderna’s previous Chief Information Officer, John Reynders, stated in 2013 that Moderna was poised to be “industry’s first fully digital biotech.”
Could digital twinning be connected to mRNA-1273? Does mRNA-1273 have its own cloud-based digital signature (AKA digital ID)? This concept may seem far-fetched; however, this paper published on December 31, 2019 by the Swedish Digital Twin Consortium (SDTC) — a component of a larger consortium called the DigiTwin Consortium comprising 32 countries — outlines the application of digital twins to genomic medicine, and more specifically, mRNA: “ . . . it is possible to perform multi-omics analyses of individual cells from the even small quantities of any fluid or tissue that can be obtained from the body. For example, single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) has been used to profile the mRNA in thousands of cells in many diseases. This has already resulted in the identification of novel mechanisms that can potentially be exploited for personalized medicine.” The authors of the paper continue, “Consider, for example, one module formed by mRNAs and another formed by genes harboring disease-associated variants. If the mRNAs and genes map to the same proteins, the two modules can be linked. The same principle can be applied to integrate many other types of molecules, such as mRNAs or proteins.” I have a sense something else is going on behind the narrative of a virus, and I have to wonder who is privy to the real objectives — possibly having to do with the creation of genomic-based digital twins.
GSK (a global healthcare company), manufacturer of flu vaccines, expects to supply more than 50 million doses of its influenza vaccines to the US market in 2020-21, and will distribute more than 1 billion doses globally. It should be noted that the digital transformation firm, Engineering, partnered with GSK to virtualize the entire production process of GSK’s vaccines through the use of digital twins, thereby studying their behavior in efforts to prepare for emergencies, and perform simulations and scenario analysis. Keep in mind that the digital twin process involves the use of embedded sensors (and artificial intelligence) to enable the physical-digital interface. Listen here to Christos Varsakelis, (Senior Manager Global Data Analytics & Innovation at GSK Vaccines), as he discussed with Rebecca Vangenechten, (head of Pharma at Siemens) at Virtual Summit 2020, how the digital twin process has already been used by GSK (he skirted around the time frame) in terms of developing vaccines and additional pharmaceuticals (see Endnote 1).
Are your mental wheels turning yet?
I would like to draw attention to a major player (probably unknown to most readers) in the field of digital transformation — Roberto Saracco — and his take on digital twins. Roberto Saracco was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Italy, led the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Digital Italian Node, and was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital. He has served the World Bank in Latin American projects, and is a senior member of IEEE, where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee, and co-chairs their Digital Reality Transformation Initiative.
I viewed this webinar (2020), “Personal Digital Twins (PDTs) and their role in Epidemics Control” by Roberto Saracco, about one week ago. At that time, there were only 64 views online. Something tells me that more people should be viewing this, as it seems most are unaware of what is being planned in this emerging arena (see References if you want a deeper dive).
In the 2020 webinar, which was presented about six months ago, Saracco spent the first 20 minutes discussing his perspective on the current pandemic scenario, including the use of pandemic jargon. I suggest beginning at the 21-minute time stamp wherein he defines Personal Digital Twins (PDTs), and how they can assist in controlling epidemics. At around the 34-minute time stamp, Saracco states that the “authorities” will have data reported to them by digital twins, and if there are people (the physical twins) who are infected or more likely to be infected, then it is necessary for countermeasures to be instituted. So, for example, if the prescribed mitigation measure is for a person (the physical twin) to stay home, and the person does not comply with this compulsory measure, then “a signal, a red flag should be generated to the health care institutions that say, hey look, this guy was supposed to stay home but is not staying home, and then it will be a matter of the government or health care institution to decide what to do and how to take action against that particular guy.”
In this same webinar, while Saracco focused on the individual analytics that are necessary for the PDT framework, he highlighted that all of the data is required for global analytics. He emphasized that the needs of society necessitate sharing our respective individual data. Oddly enough, Saracco distinguished between the idea that in some cases, the data collected should be private, but if the “authorities” deem it necessary (AKA important for the “social benefit”) to harness that data, then privacy should not be an issue.
Interestingly, at around the 47-minute time stamp of the 2020 webinar, Saracco mentioned the notion of surveillance capitalism and Shoshana Zuboff, who hails as an ostensible champion in opposing the capturing and sharing of surveillance data. Saracco revealed that Zuboff has changed her tune, in context to the current pandemic, in that when she was recently interviewed (see Endnote 2), she expressed that the contact tracing app should be utilized, and that the authorities need to use personal data to fight epidemics.
This 4-minute animated “teaser” depicting digital twins (see video above), presented in 2019 by Saracco, explains that as a component of the digital transformation, digital twinning is about mirroring the world of atoms and translating them into a world of bits. “It is so much easier to deal with bits than to work with atoms. Atoms are heavy. They take space and cannot be duplicated. On the contrary, bits are soft, can be squeezed in very little space, and can be duplicated as many times as needed. Atoms are scarce, bits are abundant.”
Notably, the 2019 animated digital twin presentation also mentioned that Singapore is the first country to have a complete digital twin connected with many digital twins, each representing respective cities, to make the country more efficient. In this regard, Dassault Systèmes appears to be leading the charge on this pilot project in the city-state of Singapore — the very same company that is collaborating with Moderna and its mRNA-based COVID vaccine. In early 2018, Dassault finished building the digital twin of Singapore, known as 3DEXPERIENCity. So it seems Dassault has its hands in many (digitized) cookie jars.
Roberto Saracco also contributed a chapter to a recently published (2020) compilation of essays called Aftershocks and Opportunities: Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future. The book (published by Fast Future) was edited by three prominent futurists — Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, and Alexandra Whittington — and provides a framework of scenarios designed by future thinkers, foresight specialists, and horizon scanners from around the world. Saracco’s contribution was called, “The Rise of Personal Digital Twins,” and depicts a future as reflected in the year 2030.
Following are some excerpts, in which Saracco highlights how personal digital twins will become seamless extensions of human body augmentation in a post-pandemic world. I have placed emphasis in areas I deemed most relevant and revealing (in bold). When describing how digital data-capturing technologies were still coming into place — when the 2020 pandemic hit — Saracco describes his future fantasy . . .
“These personal digital twins were just an extension of user digital profiles . . . What started as profiling rapidly evolved into deeper contextualization of user behavior . . . As the pandemic affected more and more people the balance shifted towards greater adoption of such digital tools to help control the spread of the virus. This allowed unaffected people to continue working and socializing within a community . . . The apps were a quick fix; it was natural to envision a more permanent framework that could be used beyond epidemic containment. They offered the ability to spot the first signs of an epidemic using personal, community, and society data.”
“Today, in 2030, personal digital twins are much more powerful than those first implementations. My digital twin receives continuous information on my physiology. The twin can monitor my heartbeat, breathing rhythms, temperature, glucose levels, and blood oxygenation from a few sensors I always carry with me. Some are embedded in my smartphone, watch, and other wearables, and in my home environment.”
“Furthermore, my digital twin also maintains a permanent health record—storing information about my genome, the data from all of medical examinations, and my prescriptions. More advanced digital twins can also store an individual’s metabolome and proteome data.”
“If I were to become infected, a personal protocol will be established which might include enforcement of quarantine procedures and monitoring by the authorities. Of course, that means a temporary abdication of my privacy rights, but this is balanced by societal benefits that outweigh my personal freedoms.”
“All in all, I am better protected, and even more importantly, I feel safe. Of course, it is not just me; it is about most of us. The expectation now is that healthcare is a societal effort . . .”
“At this point, I no longer perceive my digital twin as a separate entity. We have become one and the same. It is augmenting me, and I cannot imagine a me without it.”
Granted, what Saracco puts forth in his scenario is still in the realm of “fiction.” However, since he is immersed in this digital tech apparatus and future planning, he may have a keen conceptualization of what is planned.
Joel Garreau, in his book (2005), Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human presented an in-depth conversation he had with Nick Bostrom, co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association (now renamed H+). In their dialogue, Garreau posed the question: “What about humans dividing up into the The Enhanced, the Naturals and The Rest?” In answer to that question, Bostrom speculated that there may be “a very broad continuum in a generation or two . . . There could be herds of almost posthumans, and then slightly less trans-humans and then sort of augmented humans.” Bostrom added, “I guess it depends partly on whether enhancement technology should result in totally separated groups with radically different levels and nothing in between or whether it’s more like a continuum.”
Continuing in the context of their conversation, and according to Garreau, Bostrom perceives the “noblest goal” as a society where everybody who wants to, could become enhanced. When Garreau asked Bostrom what the word “transcendence” means to him, Bostrom replied, “We are biological organisms. The difference between the best time in life and the worst times in life is ultimately a difference in the way our atoms are arranged. In principle that’s amenable to technological intervention . . . Technological progress makes it harder for people to ignore the fact that we might actually change the human nature.” When conversing with Garreau, within the context of human susceptibility to disease, aging, murder, genocide, and racism, Bostrom expressed that being human is not humane, and further, “If Mother Nature had been a real parent, she would have been in jail for child abuse and murder.”
I consider Bostrom’s response as blatant gaslighting of both Nature and humanity, especially as he leaves little room, if any, for the expansion of human capabilities to arise from our inherent biological resources. Instead, he seems to perceive that it is only through technological tinkering of the human body that humans can attain excellence.
As further highlighted by Garreau in Radical Evolution, according to Christine L. Peterson, founder and president of the Foresight Institute (with aims to prepare society for the effects of nanotechnology), “The goal is peaceful coexistence among traditional humans, augmented humans and machine-based intelligences.”
It seems we are at a pivotal crossroads. Which direction will you choose?
Will you support the burgeoning business of wearable health technology? If given the choice, will you permit your data to be uploaded to the cloud to create your digital doppelgänger? If so, how much will you allow? Will you hand over your rights to your avatar?
Will you opt for the alluring bits and bytes of enhancement, or will you remain a “traditional” human — a lowly, imperfect, undesirable “Natural”— thereby dis-allowing the augmenters to take a bite out of your humanity?
These are questions we should be asking ourselves . . . while the hypnotized masses are enamored with bread and circuses.
1) Read here for further information on the digital twin concept and how the company, Siemens (German multinational conglomerate), is integrating this process in healthcare R&D, and in relation to the COVID-19.
2) It took me some time to find the source for Saracco’s claim regarding Shoshana’s Zuboff’s change of heart with regard to surveillance data. I finally found it here in a webinar dated June 22, 2020. Starting around the 30 minute time stamp, Zuboff explained that contact tracing by public health authorities is necessary, as the government has a rightful and democratic duty to its citizens to collect such data for the benefit of all, and that digital tools allow them to “do it better.” Zuboff stated, “Public health authorities need to be able to see large-scale patterns of how the disease is moving so they can effectively get in the way of it and contain it.” She attempted to make a distinction between private companies (ie – Google, Facebook) collecting data for profit and behavior nudging, versus the state collecting data for “good.” So it seems her flashpoint for acceptable, and even seemingly necessary, data capture is when it comes to health and safety, and it being directed by “lawful” government. I can only imagine now why this pandemic script was chosen, and how professed champions of sovereignty can so easily bend to fit this narrative and its underlying aims.
References for Further Reading:
- The Role of Personal Digital Twins in Control fo Epidemics: An IEEE Digital Reality White Paper, April 2020, Roberto Saracco et al.
- Digital Twin Computing White Paper published by the DTC Innovation Forum, Version 2.0.0, October 31, 2019 (may take a minute to load this hyperlink)
- Press Release, November 13, 2020, from Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation ~ “NTT announces new R&D projects of Digital Twin Computing”
- Engineering Ingegneria Informatica Spa Digital Twin White Paper (may take a minute to load this hyperlink)
- “Digital Twins: Mirror Image,” October 25, 2018
- “Digital twin: Cities and their digital doppelgängers,” November 12, 2020
- “Digital Twin Hub marks a successful first six months,” November 26, 2020
- “Digital twins can help create healthier cities after coronavirus,” May 22, 2020
- “How to handle Covid 19 type Virus with Digital Twin in future,” July 1, 2020
- “The hazards of digital twin technology and what dangers it may pose,” February 2019
- “Digital twins: Bridging the physical and digital,” January 15, 2020
- “Digital twins to personalize medicine,” December 31, 2019
- “Industry 4.0 and the digital twin, Deloitte University Press, 2017
- LittleSis network maps created by Alison McDowell highlighting players in the Digital Twin domain:
https://littlesis.org/oligrapher/5084-vr-gaming-surveillance-human-capital (link may not be operative, archived map below)
https://web.archive.org/web/20201217070514/https://littlesis.org/oligrapher/5084-vr-gaming-surveillance-human-capital (archived map found, as link to LittleSis above is non-operative at time of this writing)
https://littlesis.org/oligrapher/5757-dassault-digital-twin-simulations-blockchain-id (link may not be operative, archived map below)
https://web.archive.org/web/20201204194140/https://littlesis.org/oligrapher/5757-dassault-digital-twin-simulations-blockchain-id (archived map found, as link to LittleSis above is non-operative at time of this writing)
https://littlesis.org/oligrapher/2849-cornell-tech-small-data-lab-associates (link may not be operative, but no archived map found)
*Please note that Alison McDowell’s network maps were taken down a few days ago, as she was banned (censored) from the site. However, her account was restored a day later thanks to her supporters. That said, at this time, I am unable to embed and/or link to her maps that are relevant to this post. You may need to type the URLs manually.