The emergence of a Human Digital Twin

Human Digital Twin: A psychological perspective.

What is a digital twin? In a nutshell, it is a “virtual” representation of a physical object or process, where its state is constantly monitored with data obtained in real time. The applications of digital twins are mainly focused on industrial-type physical devices. A hypothesis follows:

Is it possible for a type of a “human digital twin” to exist? Would the concept of a digital twin be extended to a human digital twin that could resemble your personality in a virtual world?

An anticipated answer is twofold: “No”. Not completely now, and “Yes”, anytime soon.

The concept of a human digital twin could be feasible with commercially available technologies, that capture our data obtained through the social networks, the internet, smart “gadgets” and appliances at home, smart voice assistants and more extensively through our mobile devices. Our captured personal data is gradually creating a kind of “digital phenotype” which builds upon the sum of its behavior with digital devices and the internet. All our interactions on the internet and social networks leave a fingerprint, i.e., a “Google search”, a “Facebook like”, a phone call, my browsing history, my geolocation data, my subscriptions to mailing lists, and so on. This collected data, when organized and processed, can typify an individual’s behaviors, lifestyle, and biomarkers. Expanding this concept to scale, the resulting implications are unexpected. For example, our incipient “human digital twins” can match each other in cyberspace, if we assume that a human digital twin represents our inner self, our personality, and our thoughts.

We may leave decisions (some of them quite important) in the hands of our hypothetical human digital twin, which is manipulated by algorithms without even us noticing. Going from things such as simple as which movie to watch, which item to buy, what news to see, where to go for dinner, up to more important decisions, such as selecting your mate, start an investment and buy a house. This is typical path:

  • The algorithms get access to our digital twin – the mirror of our preferences and personality on the internet. They take the data that we all leave from your past interactions on the cyberspace.
  • The algorithms find the options that correspond to our “profile” (and indirectly our personality), and then present the option which makes match with a high degree of probability to be selected.
  • We then, highly likely will select and act on one of the options.
  • This works most of the time because our personality approximates and match very closely with our digital twin or digital phenotype, even though the current state of technology is still quite limited.

This is not a totally bad scenario after all. The information of our human digital twin is a win-win relationship between us and the Internet companies. On one hand they send us targeted personalized information and advertising, and in return, we receive attractive services that not only make it easy our lives, but also trigger our “ego” and “self-esteem”. Sometimes these last is indeed the greatest benefit the people get in return, unconsciously most of the time.

However, this digital phenotype is not so close still enough to being a complete representation of our personality. People often intentionally express or present themselves with a different image and a role in the networks depending on the social circle or professional network: we are not always the same on the Internet [1]. Having a profile on a social network like Facebook is not the same as having a professional profile in LinkedIn. Each of our profiles unconsciously reveals some aspects of our personality, we have different roles, and we behave different in each situation.

The future will deliver a version of you to play with, constructed from your every online act.

“Your digital twin”, Dave Winsborough@Linkedln

In that sense, the human digital twin could be a kind of digital mirror that reveals us much more deeply that you would ever imagine. A self-mirror which potentially characterizes our personality, where underlie a kind of “digital unconscious” created by the information collected and stored in the great memory of the “cloud”. By analogy extension it could be seen as the hidden part of the iceberg which resembles the Freud´s psychological mind model, that reservoir of our deep desires, feelings, thoughts, and memories which are outside of our conscious awareness.

The human digital twin could then have the potential to be a psychological alternative to “penetrate” into the depths of our unconscious, reveal the motivations, urges and preferences. Freud´s psychoanalysis has long identified various means to penetrate the unconscious and provoke in the patient the revelation or “insight” of the hidden desires and memories, through the techniques of “free association”, and other resources such as dreams. the failed acts, the slips of the tongue (parapraxis), the jokes, and even some psychosomatic reactions.

From a positive perspective, a psychological mirror could be beneficial to help people to discover themselves, just by looking at the “mirror” of their digital twin. Then what we are not able to see ourselves, can be revealed, by seeing to our human digital twin face to face. The digital twin could be more than that as well, it could become to be our personal shadow, the virtual object with a trail of secrets, truths, and desires.

Would it be possible, that the memories of the human digital twin, or digital phenotype, could be used to apply a psychoanalysis with data from social networks? [2]. A key concept required to support this type of analysis could be based on what is called the Psychoanalytic literary criticism which considers any literary work, any writings, as manifestations of ourselves, beyond the superficial level of a text,  in order to determine its meaning. The hypothesis is to extend the human digital twin or digital phenotype as a kind of literary work that can be the subject of a psychoanalytic criticism. Of course, a therapeutic practice is out of the scope.

Personalized models based on human digital twins can also be used in the area of  digital health [3] . Each patient could have a human digital twin which contains its health data. Some companies are starting up to invest in developing healthcare solutions based on a digital twin with the idea of ​​a digital version of the patient so that patients can use a digital twin to better act preventively rather than reactively.

Human digital twins are also on a course to be a kind of bridge between the physical and the digital world, without even us to realize that, recreations of the central and individual features of a person, with the possibility to accurately predict our reactions and behavior. This bridging possibility is taking shape now. In Japan, for example, 82.2% of people own what is called a “Character”. This product builds a “personality” according to the choices and preferences of the people who use them, and unconsciously, part of their own personality is projected. Why? in a nutshell, because these “character” make them feel better and benefit as an emotional support.

There are also some weird scenarios like psychological persuasion [4] that have been extensively documented in recent research and even in movies, such as “The Social Dilemma.” The psychological state of people has been widely shown that it can be predicted with some precision from their interactions in cyberspace, such as their “likes”, posts and videos on social networks. Massive digital persuasion takes place by applying psychological targeting to the crowd of human digital twins.

The hypothesis of a human digital twin remains open for further research and development. It could have the potential to become a valid and accepted method to analyze the human mind by looking at its corresponding human digital twin, for legitimate mental digital health purposes. Nevertheless the field of affective computing, and in particular the areas of Personality computing and Character computing contribute to make it feasible to analyze a human digital twin. But there is much more ahead: more research in the areas of computational psychology and cyberpsychology, and the development of new technologies in the field of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing.

[1] Blumer, T., & Döring, N. (2012). Are we the same online? The expression of the five factor personality traits on the computer and the Internet. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 6(3), Article 5.

[2] Emmert-Streib F, Yli-Harja O and Dehmer M (2019) Utilizing Social Media Data for Psychoanalysis to Study Human Personality. Front. Psychol. 10:2596. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02596

[3] Schwartz SM, Wildenhaus K, Bucher A and Byrd B (2020) Digital Twins and the Emerging Science of Self: Implications for Digital Health Experience Design and “Small” Data. Front. Comput. Sci. 2:31. doi: 10.3389/fcomp.2020.00031

[4] S. C. Matz, M. Kosinski, G. Nave, D. J. Stillwell, (2017) Psychological targeting in digital mass persuasion, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nov 2017, 114 (48) 12714-12719; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1710966114

Photo by Rodrigo Acuña for Psycognet