Human digital twins and evolution: The real Westworld?

At the moment, digital twins are rudimentary and limited. But as they evolve, could we wind up with Westworld-type twins that could be a boon to productivity?

Hands of robot and human touch amid a virtual network of circuits and binary code.
ipopba / Getty Images

Last week, I wrote about a new company — Merlynn — that’s selling a rudimentary human digital twin tool. I’ve been thinking about digital twins ever since — and about how a tool like this could become the next killer productivity application.

When tools that enhance an experience are initially created, they tend to emulate what came before. The first cars looked like horse-drawn carriages without the horses and were even called horseless carriages. Cars evolved and no longer look at all like those early examples. I expect digital twins to evolve, too, into something very different than they seem to be today. 

Let’s think about how human digital twins are likely to evolve and how  HBO’s dystopian "Westworld" might prove to be prophetic. (Season 4 of the show premiers tomorrow.)

The evolution of a human digital twin

Right now, there’s a lot of controversy about a Google researcher who said he believed the latest Google Conversational AI has achieved sentience. While I doubt it, I question whether it even matters. If we believe something is sentient and it acts sentient, then maybe we should treat it as if it is sentient — if only to optimize the interaction. “Westworld” features robots that emulate (and behave like) people and animals. And if humans forget to take them as seriously as they do living things, they robots tend to end up just as dead (though they can be re-created). 

The expected endpoint for the evolution of a human digital twin would be a full-on, indistinguishable copy of a human with all the skills (and nearly all the memories and personality traits that can be conveyed through observation and direct data input). They will be digital constructs with unique advantages and disadvantages over the human they copied.

The disadvantages include the fact that, at least initially, they can only exist in the metaverse. The advantages will be they don’t have human frailties, unless they’re programmed for them. They don’t need sleep, can be trained at computer speeds, can seriously multi-task (given they are a computerized construct), can turn emotions on and off, and they only require energy and a digital world in which to operate.

They don’t get sick or tired. They don’t get angry or violent. They don’t need money, so they don’t need raises. Problems like mental health issues or poor impulse control can be identified and programmed out, so they won’t need a psychiatrist.

Now, imagine an entire department of you. Each of your human digital twins receives digital training for its position, and your job becomes managing them, giving you a major increase in productivity. For instance, rather than 30 accountants, maybe the company has one that comes with 29 human digital twins. Or a CMO could have digital twins that had the CMO’s skills but pulled background from China, the EU, and other parts of the world, providing distributed marketing experts who could be effective in any remote location. This virtual team would not only be useful in homologating a campaign in different geographies, but could consistently convey the need for product changes to better fit remote markets.

The end game

While human digital twins will initially supplement workers, over time, the companies providing these tools will likely realize that this concept can do more to extend skills into completely different areas. (The human digital twins can be replicated and programmed to use training sets from other people.) It will eventually be possible to create companies fully staffed by human digital twins all based off a single founder or overachieving employee. 

And this might not be relegated to just one company. For instance, think how valuable human digital twins of Bill Gates or Elon Musk could be, or human digital twins of any leading computer scientist or especially a computer scientist that was also an MD? The ability to mix and match skill sets could lead to a unique blend of skills and an equally unique offering for a new market. And as we explore outer space, wouldn’t it be safer to supplement or even replace astronauts with digital twins that could be instantly trained on skills needed for Mars colonies?

Finally, couldn’t your digital twin just take direction and then fill out a form, write a report, or even a book based on ideas that you had — without you having to do more than come up with an initial outline?

I don’t think we’ve even begun to consider what the future for human digital twins could be, but to call them disruptive would be an understatement. They could go so far beyond the concept of a “killer app” that they’ll forever change and advance the very concept.  And this is only the tip of this iceberg

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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