In foundational ontology, 4-dimensionalism is shorthand for a mathematical-philosophical basis for a rigorous global identity criterion based upon composition. It acquired this name as a vital part of the approach is treating “actual things” as extended in time as well as space, with two objects composed of the same spatio-temporal parts being considered identical. The opportunity this brings to data sharing and integration on a large scale (both within and across organizations) is that it introduces an increased level of rigour into the way we model the world. This in turn enables a step change in the consistency that it is possible to achieve in data which is critical to enable effective data sharing and integration.
Historically, some have claimed that 4-dimensionalism does not match with how we talk about the world in everyday terms, and this has led to claims it is counter-intuitive which has sometimes been a barrier to adoption. Despite that it is quite natural for us humans to recognise that things around us, including us, have states and this fits nicely with 4-dimensionalist thinking.
However, recent years have seen some important advances in the 4-dimensional ecosystem, in how it fits into a wider information management landscape. This enables its exploitation, in improvements to the ways of talking about 4-dimensionalism to make it more approachable, to the formalisation of the foundations for 4-dimensionalism, to the grounding of a 4-dimensional ontology using a constructive approach. These are being brought together in the National Digital Twin Programme and the Information Management Framework at its heart.
Application of 4-dimensionalism
Current and potential applications of 4D/Digital Twin data modelling are wide ranging; any application that needs a developed approach to data quality and the quality of organisational decisions. In recent decades it has been used tentatively in both Oil and Gas and Defence/Security environments. Potential uses include the built environment and various engineering applications including aircraft engines, wind turbines, buildings and large structures, control systems.
The Grenfell tragedy and subsequent enquiry has uncovered the failure to use information effectively by a complex ecosystem of organisations. At the same time the challenges posed by responding to Covid has resulted in the Royal Society DELVE group to state clearly that there is a lot to learn from the current shortcomings in the use of data. The integrated use of data to inform key decisions offers a lot of potential. However, integration of data turns out to be far harder than is generally assumed.
So now is the time to take a fresh look at the 4-dimensional ecosystem - to see how it works and the potential it has to help deliver large scale data sharing and integration.