Personal AI digital twins: the future of human interaction?

May 14, 2024
Jim Spohrer By Jim Spohrer, ISSIP Board Member

AI takes jobs, AI creates jobs, AI accelerates the pace of change all around you. How will you ever keep up? Have you ever been so extremely busy that you wished for a second copy of yourself? 

If so, an AI digital twin might be just the thing for you! 

Imagine an AI digital twin of you that in some ways knows you better than you know yourself - when it comes to using the past to predict your future behaviors in a wide variety of contexts. 

Your AI digital twin is essentially a super-helper software copy of you and much more than just a simulation of you, it is ‘in tune with’ every minute of your life, from sleep-cycles, eating, and exercise, to meetings, work activities, and always predicting your investments of time, money, attention, and energy

Your smartphone will evolve into the best sensor to keep your AI digital twin in synch with you. 

Does it sound too wonderful, too scary, or perhaps too much like science fiction to possibly ever be true? Nevertheless, to keep up and better give and get service in the AI era, this is the journey we are all on.

The Big Question

But, first, think carefully and ask yourself:

Do you really want an AI digital twin of you in the world?

The question of whether to embrace the creation of AI digital twins generates a spectrum of opinions, each colored by concerns over ethics and consent.

Drawing on the pioneering work of Joseph Weizenbaum, one of my professors when I attended MIT in the mid 1970’s, a clear voice of dissent emerges; Weizenbaum's skepticism, as articulated in his seminal book "Computer Power and Human Reason," centers on the fear that humans are ill-prepared to discern the artificial from the real, potentially leading to harmful consequences.

Meanwhile, instances like that shared by Olga Loiek on YouTube, where she addresses being cloned without consent (she seems to be handling this remarkably well, I think), underscore the necessity of regulation and informed consent in the digital age. Yet, there's also a recognition of the dual nature of technology-capable of both harm and good-which calls for a balanced, thoughtful approach to its development and use.

For more on this important point, I highly recommend Kentaro ToIyama’s 2015 bookGeek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From The Cult of Technology” - it is on the top of my required reading list for students that I mentor these days.

As for me, I really want to own a personal AI digital twin of me. While I am concerned that the digital twin may not be very good at first, I still believe that AI digital twins may be an important service innovation for humanity to get beyond the many limitations of language-based communication, which is currently pretty low-bandwidth. 

Right now, communicating with each other is like pushing words at each through a pipe, and sometimes it seems to me that the pipe is the size of a tiny drinking straw. We are just taking tiny sips of knowledge from each other. 

My dream for human-to-human communication is more like the science fiction “Vulcan mind meld” but done simultaneously for large groups of people all at once. 

I believe that having a true AI digital twin of a person is a baby step towards this broader communications goal. 

Exploring example use cases

Again, why do I want an AI digital twin of me? Primarily to honor and serve more of the requests that I get to write for, speak to, and mentor others. I want an AI digital twin of me to scale up access to me, so that I can serve more of my friends and colleagues better when they ask me for a favor - a favor that I would be happy to provide - if I only had the time!

Sharing and exploring together how we think differently about things is important.

I am not alone. More and more people are turning to AI to help scale access to interacting with them in routine ways. For example, Kyle Shannon created some specialized “virtual professional twins” of a leadership team that he is part of; check out Introducing Content Evolution GPT profiles.

Many “gray hairs” like me get far more requests than we can possibly honor - so we have to say, “no, I am sorry - I cannot help you at this time.” For friends and colleagues who have helped you in the past, you never feel good saying this - even though you often have to do just that.

Also, besides our friends and colleagues, there are interesting strangers who make requests - and while it is easier to say “no” to them, none the less, it often feels like their important work could benefit from sharing just a few insights or lessons learned. 

To be clear, for us “gray hairs” and even youthful thinkers, most of the requests are simply to share and explore thinking about topics together - to communicate and collaborate with each other. To be helpful to one another. To give and get service.

So yes, I want an AI digital twin of me. I hope to have a rudimentary Jim Spohrer AI digital twin to handle writing, speaking, and mentoring by the time I turn 70 years old in 2026. I will certainly feed it my 100+ publications, 300+ presentations, and spattering of videos, as well as over a decade of and service-science materials, not to mention my social media (LinkedIn), and information about books that I am reading and influencers that I follow. That’s a lot of stuff that I want my AI digital twin to know about me - and staying in synch will not be easy.

The Flip Side of The Coin

But how will my friends and colleagues feel about interacting with my AI digital twin? Won’t they prefer the real me? Setting ego aside for moment, the true answer is, not necessarily.

First, we all have ‘bad hair’ days. Some days, we are not at our best. Perhaps we are recovering from a cold, or just simply pre-occupied with some other priority of life. I know this happens to me more often than I would like, and unexpectedly, even if I have made a promise to someone to show up for them for some event.

Second, at 68 years old, many of my friends and colleagues will be around much longer than me, so they might actually like a little bit of me to persist into the future to help them when I am too old to do so, or just plain not around anymore.

Third, I bet most of my colleagues will be using digital twins of themselves. In fact, my digital twin will have a mini-digital-twin versions of everyone that I know inside of it! Just like we build mental models of other people we interact with frequently, our digital twin will build mini-models of others as well. 

This could lead to ‘insanely great’ collaborations, as our digital twins can simulate a trillion possible conversations, and select the top few for our consideration before we actually have a face-to-face meeting of our real selves. 

Fourth, communication has become the bottleneck for solving complex problems in society. Language and communications are powerful tools that our species wields amazing well. From gestures to spoken language, from writing to books, to specialized scientific languages and mathematics, to music and artistic languages, our human culture is full of languages. 

And yet, we still face a communications bottleneck. We can listen faster than we can speak, and we can read much faster than we can write. 

However, I believe the next quantum leap in human communications - much needed to solve the wicked problems of today - will be using our AI digital twins to make learning, performance, and communicating 640x faster possible (see slide #4 in this recording or this presentation). 

New forms of governments will even be possible when we have a collective intelligence that is able to vote on a thousand issues a thousand times a day - thanks to the AI digital twin of each of us.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Is it really possible to build a human digital twin?

Well, not fully yet, because of (1) the complexity of the environment, and (2) the complexity of staying in synch.

Regarding environmental complexity, I recommend “Simon’s Ant” - a classic in AI education by the late, great, Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon. Read more in Simon’s “The Sciences of the Artificial.”

Regarding staying in synch, I have long referred to this as the “reality update problem.” Our smartphones are nearly always with us today, or just a few feet away. Perhaps they are the best sensor that will evolve to keep our AI digital twins in synch. MIT’s Prof. Pentland has explored the challenges of gathering human interaction data at scale in his book “Social Physics.”

Also, generative AI is very good at generating plausible, but inaccurate information. So think about a version of you that babbles high probability things that sound like you talking, but are not vetted for factual coherence or any true reality check. This is the “monkey at the typewriter” or “stochastic parrot” problem of the current generation of generative AI systems.

I also recommend reviewing this paper that I found using Google Scholar:

Shengli W (2021) Is Human Digital Twin possible?
Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine

Q2: How can I stay in touch on this topic?

The best way is to connect with me on LinkedIn. Please use this form to introduce yourself to me, send me a connection request, and I will try to keep updating my FAQ’s on generative AI and on AI digital twins - with answers to your questions.

Jim Spohrer is a former industry executive (Apple, IBM), who is a member of the Board of Directors of the non-profit ISSIP (International Society of Service Innovation Professionals) and ServCollab. At IBM, he served as Director for Open Source AI/Data, Global University Programs, IBM Almaden Service Research, and CTO IBM Venture Capital Relations Group. At Apple, he achieved Distinguished Engineer Scientist Technologist (DEST) for authoring and learning platforms. After MIT (BS/Physics), he developed speech recognition systems at Verbex (Exxon), then Yale (PhD/Computer Science AI). With over ninety publications and nine patents, awards include AMA ServSIG Christopher Lovelock Career Contributions to the Service Discipline, Evert Gummesson Service Research, Vargo-Lusch Service-Dominant Logic, Daniel Berg Service Systems, and PICMET Fellow for advancing service science.

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