The philosophical foundations of digital twinning

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The philosophical foundations of digital twinning

David Wagg, University of Sheffield, Christopher Burr, The Alan Turing Institute, Jason Shepherd, Fujitsu Services Ltd, Zack Xuereb, The Alan Turing Institute, Mark Enzer, Mott MacDonald, Steven Niederer, Imperial College London


Digital twins are a new paradigm for our time, offering the possibility of interconnected virtual representations of the real-world. The concept is very versatile, and has been adopted by multiple communities of practice, policymakers, researchers and innovators.

A significant part of the digital twin paradigm is about interconnecting digital objects, many of which have previously not been combined. As a result, members of the newly forming digital twin community are often talking at cross-purposes, because they have different starting points, assumptions and cultural practices. These differences are often due to the established philosophical world-view adopted within specific communities of practice.

In this paper we explore the philosophical context which underpins the concept of digital twins. As part of this effort we offer a set of philosophical principles for digital twins, which are intended to help facilitate their further development.

Specifically, we argue that the philosophy of digital twins is fundamentally holistic. We further argue that digital twins are reconstructivist, meaning they aim to reconstruct the behaviour of a physical twin by assembling multiple “components”, e.g. models, agents and data sets.

Importantly, these digital twin components have the potential to capture emergent behaviours when they are dynamically assembled.

Lastly, we discuss the following four questions (i) What is the distinction between a model and a digital twin? (ii) What previously unseen results can we expect from a digital twin? (iii) How can emergent behaviours be predicted? (iv) How can we assess the existence and uniqueness of digital twin outputs?

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