Digital twins are being created in factories and cities, and we even have an Earth 2 effort trying to create a digital twin of the planet.
But the most important of these will be the digital twins of humans, which many of us thought were years away. Well, Merlynn, an AI-focused tech company, has already started marketing a human “digital twin” that could initially improve productivity but eventually lead to the elimination of human workers in many companies. .
I want to talk about the initial benefits companies can derive from this technology and the potential problems that will arise if we don’t think about what’s to come and act aggressively to protect the viability of human workers.
The promise of digital twins
Merlynn has created a tool that makes it easy for an employee to create and train a digital twin. Depending on training, these twins can perform the repetitive tasks that an employee usually does (and hates). This can include attending meetings and taking notes while being able to answer an increasing number of questions the twins have been trained to answer. Then it could summarize what it observed and how it reacted so that its human counterpart would be aware with a much lower time commitment.
Things like generating activity reports, answering emails, creating and summarizing meeting notes, and even answering the phone by a capable digital clone are all possible at short notice. Imagine being able to pass many, if not most, of tasks that you dislike to your twin sister so that you can distance yourself from work and enjoy your personal time.
This is the ideal use of artificial intelligence (AI) – to complement rather than replace an employee. That allows the employee to spend more time on work that concerns them, and away from the painful, repetitive bureaucratic tasks that nearly every job entails. The employee is happier and the company has better productivity.
But technology does not stand still and as the digital twin progresses, a problem will arise.
The Problem With Advanced Digital Twins
As this digital twin progresses, it may well evolve into an outright replacement. When competing with humans, the digital twin has several major advantages in the long run. It can work continuously without the need for breaks or free time. It can work at machine speeds. And clones could be trained almost immediately, making it easier to transition to fully autonomous operation.
So an employee who does a great job training his or her digital twins may find that not only are they becoming redundant, but so is everyone else doing the same job. The TV show “The Twilight Zone” explored this decades ago and the ending was both ironic and now, apparently, prophetic.
Consider the long-term consequences
The question of who owns the digital twin you create and whether it can be used to replace you needs to be definitively answered. Otherwise, employees may not be as willing to train them. After all, there are few employees who want to train a replacement who will take over their job.
While the need to address this problem is likely to be years away, unions need to spot it early, as they flagged autonomously powered trucks. That move has significantly reduced the ability to deploy this increasingly valuable technology.
I feel like there should be some residual employee ownership of the digital twins they’re creating, allowing for a long-term revenue stream to that employee for each of the digital twins they’re mimicking. This would help ensure the workers’ income over time and promote their aggressive training of their twin brother. Because even if the twins eventually replace them, their income will be safe.
In the long run, balancing the company’s desire to automate and employees’ need to earn a living wage will become a key factor in the adoption and success of this technology.
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