Blog: Data, Digital Life & Hybrid Existentialism: Part 2
Continuation from Part 1…
DataGangers, Digital Twins, and Digital Doppelgangers
According to Wikipedia, in the English language, “doppelgänger” (aka “doppelganger” or “doppelgaenger”) is a word borrowed from German and is defined as “a non-biologically related look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a ghostly or paranormal phenomenon and usually seen as a harbinger of bad luck. Other traditions and stories equate a doppelgänger with an evil twin.”
How ironic that the definition of a doppelganger references the ghostly or paranormal phenomenon and evil twins. Perhaps this explains the discomfort people feel as they realize that they have many “dataGangers”, as Steve North first called them in 1998, in the “ethereal” online world, created automatically through the data that is generated with our every view, click, download, share, post, or action. These “post-biological representation[s]” follow us around constantly and represent us as cookies, AdIDs, profiles and personas and act on our behalf; yet we have no ownership rights and limited control over them.
In the industrial realm, the concept of “digital twins” has become all the rage since first being introduced in 2002. Defined as “a digital replica of a living or non-living physical entity”, its use in industrial applications is growing with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the creation of digital twins of physical assets like planes, trains, automobiles, and industrial machinery essentially extends the concept of physical assets and capital into the digital realm. Should we be extending rights and ownership of assets in the physical world into the digital world as well?
The trend towards digital twins of humans has not gone unnoticed as Jenny Beresford points out. But why is it that data attributable to a person in the real world increases its value dramatically and changes its characteristics to be different than physical objects and assets? Because unlike inanimate objects and commodities which are bought and sold and similar in characteristics, people make decisions and determine outcomes including purchase decisions, recommendations, and serve as influencers to other decisions. Thus, data like location data, demographic data, purchase data, intent, and behavioral data are highly sought after and our digital twins are being constructed by companies like Facebook and Google and advertising and marketing firms in a world where we do not have any embodied rights and protections like we do in the real world.
What rights and protections should we have for our digital doppelgängers? How can we control what our evil digital twins can do on our behalf if we don’t have any rights or protections?