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Near-term ethical challenges of digital twins
  1. Brent Mittelstadt
  1. Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Brent Mittelstadt, Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 3JS, UK; brent.mittelstadt{at}

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In ‘Represent me: please! Towards an ethics of digital twins in medicine’,1 Braun analyses the potential for simulations of human organs and bodies, or ‘digital twins,’ to faithfully a person. Drawing from several French philosophers, he introduces ‘first conditions for digital twins to take on an ethically justifiable form of representation’.1

The analysis predominantly focuses on challenges that arise in terms of representation, embodiment, control by the patients after which the twin is modelled. Many challenges are posited on the existence of digital twins as autonomous technologies capable of acting on behalf of the patient. One may be reasonably sceptical about the potential to achieve ‘digital twins’ in the near future; the author, to his credit, acknowledges this fact in the section ‘Simulating a precise efficacy’ while still providing a faithful overview of a nascent field of development. Given the state of development described in the paper, the risk of autonomous digital twins in the near future seems remote.

There are two clear ethical risks of digital twin which, to my reading, deserve more attention than they receive in Braun’s analysis. Let us refer to these as the ‘near-term’ challenges of digital twins, in the sense that their significance does not turn on the degree of agency or embodiment of digital twins, but rather their mere existence and potential …

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  • Contributors BM prepared all aspects of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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