Personal digital twins: The age of online avatars

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Personal digital twins: The age of online avatars

Personal digital twins: The age of online avatars

Subheading text
As technology advances, it is becoming easier to create digital clones of ourselves to represent us in virtual reality and other digital environments.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • December 8, 2023

    Insight summary

    Personal digital twins, advanced replicas of individuals using IoT, data mining, and AI, are transforming various sectors, particularly healthcare, where they assist in personalized treatment and preventive care. Initially developed for replicating physical entities, these digital avatars now enable interactions in digital ecosystems, from online shopping to virtual workplaces. However, their growing use raises serious ethical issues, including privacy concerns, data security risks, and potential identity theft and discrimination. As digital twins gain prominence, they prompt considerations for therapy development, workplace policies, data privacy regulations, and the necessity of international legislation to address online violations against these digital identities.

    Personal digital twin context

    Personal digital twins involve a combination of technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), data mining and fusion analysis, and artificial intelligence (AI). 

    Digital twins were initially conceptualized as digital replicas of locations and objects, allowing professionals to perform unlimited training and experiments. For example, digital twins of cities are actively being used for urban planning; digital twins in the healthcare sector are used to advance the study of lifecycle management, elderly-assistive technology, and medical wearables; and digital twins in warehouses and manufacturing facilities are actively utilized to optimize process efficiency metrics. However, as AI and machine learning technologies progress, digital replicas of humans are becaming unavoidable. 

    Digital twins can be applied to creating a “full-bodied” online avatar that can represent a person’s digital identity. Assisted by the growing popularity of the metaverse, these avatars or digital twins can simulate physical interactions online. People can use their avatars to buy real estate and art through non-fungible tokens (NFTs), as well as to visit online museums and virtual workplaces, or conduct business transactions online. Meta’s 2023 release of its pixel codec avatars (PiCA) will enable hyperrealistic avatar codes of people for use in digital communication in virtual environments. 

    Disruptive impact

    The most apparent benefit of personal digital twins is in the medical industry, where a twin can serve as an electronic health record that can assist with tracking an individual’s health information, including heart and pulse rate, overall health status, and potential anomalies. This data may help create personalized treatment or health plans, considering the individual’s medical history or records. Preventive care is also possible, particularly for individuals demonstrating mental health vulnerabilities; for instance, personal digital twins can also be used in safety measures that involve location tracking and recording the places and people patients last visited. 

    Meanwhile, a personal digital twin could become a powerful workplace tool. Employees can use their digital twins to store important contact information, project files, and other work-related data. While digital twins can be helpful in a virtual workplace, there are several concerns to consider: ownership of personal digital twins and documentation in a virtual setting, virtual interactions and variations of harassment, and cybersecurity.

    The ethical implications of these use cases are enormous. Privacy is the principal challenge, as digital twins can store a wealth of sensitive information that can be hacked or stolen. This information could be accessed and used without the individual’s consent or knowledge. Similarly, cybercriminals can conduct identity theft, fraud, blackmail, or other malicious activities to exploit online personas. Finally, there is the possibility of widespread discrimination, as these virtual avatars could deny access to services or opportunities based on their data or history.

    Implications of personal digital twins

    Wider implications of personal digital twins may include: 

    • Personal digital twins being used to study different therapies and assistive technologies, notably for an aging population and people with disabilities.
    • Organizations and employment unions writing policies about using virtual avatars at work.
    • Governments imposing strict regulations on data privacy and the limitations of personal digital twins.
    • Employees using digital twins to establish a hybrid lifestyle where they can start an activity offline and choose to continue it online, or vice-versa.
    • Civil rights groups lobbying against the increasing normalization of personal digital twins.
    • Increasing occurrences of cybercrimes where personal data is stolen, traded, or sold, depending on the individual’s identity.
    • Increasing online violations on personal digital twins that may become so complex that international legislation/agreements are required to regulate them.

    Questions to comment on

    • What are other benefits and risks to personal digital twins?
    • How can personal digital twins be protected from cyberattacks?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: