How to ensure that the national digital twin is ethical

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Industry, academia, government and civil society must work together to ensure that the national digital twin is ethical.

Research conducted by digital transformation specialist Sopra Steria on behalf of the National Digital Twin programme (NDTp) sets out three next steps. First, that clear, long-term leadership must be agreed and developed for the national digital twin in a manner that brings together industry, academia, government and civil society with the aim of agreeing terms, setting standards and creating guidelines regarding ethics.

Second, processes must be developed for stakeholder and civil society engagement with the development of the national digital twin and use of digital twins.

Third, an ethics board for the national digital twin should be created, with representation from across industries, academia, government and civil society. The researchers state that this ethics board “should be a compulsory and prominent presence in the decision-making process”.

Sopra Steria’s research reviewed the ethical considerations arising from the Gemini Principles, the founding principles of the national digital twin and often referred to as the conscience of the national digital twin.

The researchers said: “Given the interdependencies between the Gemini Principles, it is not surprising that the ethical issues arising are similarly inter-related. As such, in seeking to develop and deploy an ethical digital twin, these issues should not be considered in isolation.

“Just as there is a relationship between, for example, Federation and Curation, so is there a relationship between Security, Privacy and Openness. These interdependencies lead to a requirement for complex ethical trade-offs to be made. Once more, these trade-offs are best made with clear and accountable leadership and through engaging stakeholders, including the general public, while recognising contextual dependencies of each individual digital twin.”

Adrian Fieldhouse, MD government sector at Sopra Steria, added: “From improving public services to making safer roads, developing more effective land use to reducing our impact on the environment, making our borders more efficient to transforming healthcare, digital twins offer exciting possibilities for the future. Yet these benefits will only be realised if we recognise that ethics lies at the heart of technology.

“The benefits and risks of digital twins need to be grappled with now, at the advent of the technology. The alternative is to wait and be confronted with missed opportunities.”

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  1. Start by not assuming twins are identical and using a different term to describe the digital and physical link?

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