I am a huge Apple fan and this year’s launch of Watch Series 4 (I am sold, goodbye Fitbit!) and its huge focus on health (with fall sensor and ECG on your wrist!) made me think how these innovations are now creating a digital twin of all of us. Digital twin is not a new concept, it has been there for many years and more recently has seen more adoption in the context of machines where the digital replica of the machine (combining CAD/ CAE technology, IOT and analytics) ‘live’ their life along-side the real machine and help proactively predict need for maintenance, project future enhancements for better performance etc. Recently, we worked on a solution for a large health and life sciences customer to create decentralized digital identities for machines, institutions and humans. In this blog, we will see why the concept for digital twin to humans is as useful a concept as it is to machines. More importantly, why blockchain and why has it enabled a ‘rebirth’ of the digital twin. We will go on to see some use cases that can hugely benefit from this concept both in the health and life sciences industry and outside of it. We are all creating footprints of ourselves on the internet, all that information is creating a digital twin of us and it is time we take control of who owns and shares that replica of us!
What is a Digital Twin – in the context of humans?
Digital Twin in the human context is all the data footprint that we as human create through our attributes, interactions and online presence which when combined and leverages innovations in IoT and analytics can help predict our future needs – health and otherwise.
Attributes are core data that make up what we are – these could be name, age, gender, address, ethnicity, education, salary etc. These help define the base data about us as individuals and can go a long way in predicting whether we are prone to certain type of health conditions because of where we originate from or because of where we live ( like Vit D deficiency if you live in the UK!). All this data is stored digitally in different places today and controlled by different entities and organizations. Most of the time, we don’t even know who has the data and who they are sharing this with.
This is all the data and footprint that is created when we interact with the external world. For e.g. how frequently do I do air travel and what potential impact this could have on my health. Or my bank data could indicate how often I enjoy a meal in restaurants and how often does that include a drink. My interactions also include data from my health device like my apple watch which shows how often I exercise and what’s my resting heart rate. Interactions data that are recorded by my health devices, my phones, my bank, my doctor, my travel agent are all essential part of the ‘Digital Me’ that when combined with the attributes can go a long way in monitoring, diagnostics and prognostics for my performance. This could even help new organizations offer new products – maybe I need a flight delay insurance as I travel too much! But who should own this ‘Digital Me’ – it should obviously be me.
With the dawn of internet, we all now also have another angle to our persona and that is the online footprint – this is all the browsing we do. This data is already stored by the various websites (and even passed onto others as part of advertising revenues) that define my needs, my habits and my personality. This adds an important aspect to defining my digital twin and can provide interesting insights into my health as well. Again, shouldn’t this information be owned by me? We are all doing free data labor. There are unions formed to demand payment for this labor. Not sure whether we will ever get paid for data labor but we could alteast control who uses the data we produce.
How can our Digital Twin help us and why blockchain?
I am sure by now many of you are already thinking of the many possibilities that the Digital twin opens up. Just like the digital twin of machines can help predict need for maintenance, help create the next generation machine design that is more resilient and allow manufacturers to come up with better products, our digital twin can help do the same for our health and needs. Digital twin for humans can help predict if someone has a higher chance to get cancer or diabetes etc., can help provide insights into what changes to lifestyle can enable a longer healthier life or even help predict when I need a new product or service. And even help me with things I should consider if I plan to relocate to another country!
You must be thinking, oh well, that is all good but what does blockchain have to do here. If a Digital Twin for humans were to be built with traditional technologies, it will still need us to ‘trust’ a central intermediary that will hold all the data and perform the analytics on them to give us our predictions. This is possibly why it has not taken off as well as the one for machines (machines don’t care who owns their data!).What blockchain allows is for creating these identities on an immutable ledger with no central party owning that data. This means that it enables self – sovereign identity where the owner of the data (you) decides who gets access to your data and can track everyone who accessed it. Hyperledger Indy is one promising blockchain platform that enables creating these identities. The blockchain network is made of the data owner (you), data attester (say the university that issued your education certificate) and the data requestor (say your employer). The governance of the network is democratic and the access to the data is provided with approval from the data owner. This now opens the possibility of creating digital replica of humans across all their attributes and interactions. It can go a long way in transforming health, insurance and banking!