Digital Twin: the 2018 agile wind tunnel with quantum future

Digital Twins enable testing of real world testing of complex systems. The concept of living test lab has been dream for testers. Digital Twins are not static, but allow for constant new input based on the real world from IoT sensors. Digital Twins make use of AI, Machine Learning, and IoT to simulate complex system behaviors. IBM is working in our labs and with our clients to find exciting new ways to use and create digital twins.

When flight first started, a man had to risk his life to test each innovation. An innovation had a high threshold since the bet was a human life. Eventually, engineers built wind tunnels where they could simulate the effect of the air flow over the plane. While it no longer was risking a life, it had limitations on size (can’t fit an entire 747 in wind tunnel), was artificial, and was costly.  Also how do you simulate more complex events like sudden down drafts, lightening strikes, rough landings, wear and tear over years (metal fatigue, corrosion)? Now with digital twin, you can test the effect of changes to the digital twin of the airplane. We can run 100’s or 1,000’s of changes and combinations of changes to identify the impacts. Only the best of these changes will be put into use.

The while the changes put into use could be small, similar to agile built software application, they would add up to significant impacts. The feedback from the IoT devices in the real world will then update the digital twin allowing new sets of changes to be developed, deployed, and tested before the best combinations are rolled out in rapid succession. As most planes are now fly by wire and highly digital, incremental changes are possible to many of the systems. Today it might not be possible to reshape physical parts like wings, fuselage and rudders, but maybe in the future technologies could reshape the surface to change physical parts of the plane. Clearly there would need to be progression from test bed, to unmanned, to test flights before it went into passenger aircraft, but the rate of innovation in safety related industry goes up by orders magnitude and the risk and costs come down proportionally, too.

The ability to try millions and even billions of combinations in each digital twin is not yet possible as it would overwhelm the compute power of traditional binary computers. The rapidly evolving Quantum Computer may provide the power required to make machine learning nearly unlimited in capacity enabling deep learning and unlimited numbers of combinations of factors in our digital twins. You can even try out quantum for yourself in IBM’s DevOp environment – bluemix.

Benefits of digital twins can apply to almost any machine, group of machines, or ecosystem of lots of groups of machines. I wonder if in the future, a quantum digital twin could be more complex and subtle in its simulation than the real world. As of today, our models of reality pale in complexity to the real world. Below is simply mind map machine systems with a focus on transportation machines. It shows how digital twins can use data from other digital twins. It is model composed of multiple models.

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A network of machine ecosystems that can become digital twins

How could a digital twin help your industry? How can you take advantage of a digital twin to improve the quality of life and leverage the vast amount of data pouring out from mushrooming number of IoT sensors? It is an exciting problem to explore with real business implications.

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Our 2 fears of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

We have two (2) overarching fears of AI. AI domination is the most irrational fear where AI becomes smarter than organic intelligence and wipes out or subjugate the organic life forms. This plays out in number of number of science fiction works like “Transformers”, “Terminator” and “I, Robot”. In “I, Robot”, the AI unit is claiming to do it in service of humanity. I’d argue AI domination is the least likely scenario of doom and maybe in dealing with our second fear, we can solve our AI domination fear, too.

The second fear is that of misuse of AI. I’d argue that is the same argument has been used against every technological advancement. The train, automobile, nuclear fission, vaccines, DNA, and more have all been cited for ending the world. I suspect someone said the same thing against the lever, wheel, fire, and bow. Each has changed the world. Each has required a new level of responsibility. We’ve banded together as humans to moderate the evil and enhance the positive in the past. Ignoring it or banning it has never worked.

Amazon, DeepMind/Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft are working together in the “Partnership on AI” to deal with this second fear as described by the Harvard Business Review article “What will it take for us to trust AI” by Guru Banavar. It is a positive direction to see these forces coming together to create a baseline set of rules, values, and ethics upon which to base AI. I’m confident others will weigh in from all walks of life, but the discussion and actions needs to begin now. I don’t expect this to be the final or only voice, but a start in the right direction.

I hope the rules are as simple and immovable as Issac Asimov’s envisioning of the  3 laws of robotics on which the imagined, futuristic positronic brains power AI robots. Unfortunately, I doubt the rules will be that simple. Instead they will probably rival international tax law for complexity, but we can hope for simplicity.

The only other option is to stop AI. I don’t think it is going to work. The data is there and collecting at almost unfathomable rate. EMC reports stored data growing from 4.4ZB in 2013 to 44ZB in 2020. That is 10^21 (21 zeros) bytes of data. AI is simply necessary to process it. So unless we are going to back-out the computerized world we live in, we need to control AI rather than let it control us. We have the option to decide our fate. If we don’t then others will move forward in the shadows. Openness, transparency, and belief in all of human kind have always produced the best results.

In the process of building the foundation of AI, maybe we can leave out worst of human kind – lust for power, greed, avarice, superiority. Maybe the pitfalls in humans can simply NOT be inserted in AI. It will reflect our best and not become the worst of human kind – a xenophobic dictator.

Putting the AI genie back in the bottle will not work. So I think the Partnership on AI is a good first step.