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Perspectives on digital twins and the (im)possibilities of control
  1. Max Tretter
  1. Theology, FAU, Erlangen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Max Tretter, Theology, FAU, Erlangen 91054, Germany; max.tretter{at}

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In his contribution, ‘Represent me: please! Towards an ethics of digital twins in medicine’1, Braun shows that there is a fundamental ambivalence inherent in (the interaction with) digital twins: they can either open up new freedoms for the simulated persons, or, conversely, endanger and restrict their freedom. To prevent digital twins from restricting people’s freedom, Braun suggests a strong focus on control.

Braun’s focus on control is insufficient, I will argue, because his idea of control works only retroactively: it can only react to restrictions of freedom that have already occurred, but it cannot prevent them, nor can it restore any lost freedom. Control is therefore insufficient to defend people’s freedom. To prove my claim, I will first use an everyday example to illustrate the fundamental ambivalence inherent in digital twins. Second, I will show that digital twins endanger people’s freedom in a hermeneutic way. Finally, I will demonstrate why controllability cannot prevent this hermeneutic endangerment.

I understand digital twins, like Braun, as simulation of a person, as their dynamic and precise effigy. Simulated twins use machine-learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to make predictive analyses about the simulated person and the future development of her health.

The fundamental ambivalence of digital twins

Imagine: You are eating dinner. Meanwhile, your partner lectures you about the calorie density and nutrient composition of your food, warns you that your portion size exceeds your daily calorie requirement by x calories. It calculates how your dinner will negatively impact your body mass index (BMI) and physical fitness, and predicts what the consequences will be for your overall health. Based on these data and predictions, it creates an individualised diet plan for you—and at the same time shows you by how much you could improve your vital values by sticking to that plan.

This example helps to illustrate the fundamental …

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  • Contributors MT is the sole author of this article.

  • Funding This work has been funded by a grant from the Federal Ministry of Research and Education (grant number: 01GP1905B).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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