This week’s topic is Digital Twins (DTs). As we rush through virtual worlds into the metaverse, the concept of DTs will become clearer.
The idea of digital twins has been around for a long time. IBM defines a concept as “a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle”.
The idea of ”representation” twinning goes back to the Greeks with the Antikythera Mechanism that drew a blueprint for the sky and predicted eclipses and astronomical events. Stonehenge is arguably an older example of a twin, matching a stone circle with the Earth’s motion around the sun.
In the 1960s, NASA made replicas of spacecraft used for training and simulation, as training in space itself was impossible. Therefore, the Apollo missions heralded the emergence of a twin that spanned from analog to digital. Having these Earth “twins” mirror what was happening in space enabled Mission Control to work through and troubleshoot problems as they appeared on the Apollo 13 mission, saving the lives of those on board.
DTs are now common in manufacturing and product development and are often categorized into the following:
- Dual Digital Prototyping (DTP) – existed before a physical product existed
- Dual Digital Instance (DTI) – a single instance of a physical object
- Dual digital assembly (DTA) – assembly of DTIs
I recently spoke with John Blicq, author of Digital Twins – The Next Human (R) Evolution That Will Disrupt the Financial Services Industry. John sees a future in which DTs will play a critical role in customer relationships in financial services.
He assures that if you digitize someone and create a twin, the twin can work for you in a completely unemotional way, selecting and buying products, managing accounts and wallets etc. The way this could happen is that the digital twin could increasingly take on the role of acting on behalf of the individual. Human susceptibility to error makes money in finance, so making money “work” less emotional and more rational will affect industry business models.
John mentioned a company called Soul Machines, based in New Zealand, that could digitize anyone in a couple of weeks. Using video capture, artificial intelligence and machine learning, he can create a mirror of a person who is largely indistinguishable from the person (the video on his website of Will.I.Am meeting his digital twin is well worth a watch).
The use case that many banks are exploring is customer service, i.e. providing a realistic human face to the chatbot. Much of my research has shown that clients crave face-to-face contact when seeking guidance and advice from their banks, so they are likely on to something. So, the idea of our number, at least we physically, is closer than you think.
The emerging metaverse that is driven by the gaming and esports industry is heading towards the same place, but from a platform and audience perspective.
My teenage kids spend a lot of their free time in 3D worlds, building, games and increasingly transactional. I’m the ‘Donkey Kong on a Nintendo handheld’ generation so the graphics quality is beyond mind to me (finally matches the pictures on the packaging).
Most of these games require avatars which are often custom creations from players. These characters use cartoon-style characters, but it’s not a huge leap to imagine people digitizing themselves and using digital twins like the Soul Machine version of Will.I.Am as their game playing avatars.
As companies like Apple, Facebook, and Samsung invest in AR and VR, may we find ourselves in 3D environments interacting with others, rather than looking like Mebots or emojis, looking like us like DTI…listening to Mark Zuckerberg’s Connect 2021 presentation This appears to be the direction of travel.
So, what does this have to do with financial services?
As mentioned above, there is an opportunity to build realistic human interfaces for customer service. However, I’m afraid that while the interface has been hacked, what about the intelligence? Machine learning and artificial intelligence are yet to be realized. It’s not a good idea to have a human-like avatar, just so you don’t answer questions like a person.
How about meeting in virtual reality? Right now, using a platform like Horizon from Meta, I find it funny to talk to a bank representative if he looks like a cartoon character. But talking to a photo-realistic DTI for a VR consultant would be something I can imagine more than acceptable.
Metaverse is being increasingly marketed. NFTs and cryptocurrencies allow digital goods and services to be bought and sold. I can imagine that this new financial ecosystem supports the future as people spend money to ensure their digital double looks and function optimally.
I never wanted to get a tattoo myself. But I can imagine that I want to have one digital twin. Banksy can become a metaverse tattoo artist. Having a Banksy NFT tattoo seems intriguing. As an NFT, it will have resale potential, so investing the way it looks can be a financial investment! Can you imagine talking to your bank manager in virtual reality and asking for his opinions on investing in tattoos?
If you think it sounds far-fetched, high-end fashion brand Balenciaga has launched a line of clothing for players of Fortnite, an online game. People can buy hats and headdresses for $725 as skins for their game characters. From what I could see, this appealed to fashionistas out of the 350 million on the catwalk, and they sold out.
Pandora’s virtual box is open for business, and the lines of demarcation between online and offline will become more blurred. Digital twins will be a component, whatever happens in the end!
About the author
Dave Wallace is a user experience and marketing expert who has spent the past 25 years helping financial services companies design, launch, and develop digital customer experiences.
He is a passionate customer advocate, champion and successful entrepreneur.
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