Digital twins as avatars

From the article “Welcome to Mirrorworld” by Kevin Kelly for WIRED Magazine

Reading “Welcome to Mirrorworld”, I feel both excited and terrified for the upcoming advancements in digital modeling and AR (augmented reality) technology. As I write this, companies are building virtual replicas of objects and environments and entire worlds. Kelly predicts, “Eventually everything will have a digital twin.” I would add that eventually everyone will have a digital twin as well whether they like it or not - and whether they know it or not.

Eventually everything will have a digital twin. - Kevin Kelly for WIRED

Eventually everything will have a digital twin. - Kevin Kelly for WIRED


I would like to have a hand in the creation of my digital twin, and I certainly want to know about its existence. As seen at the AR in Action summit at MIT last fall, technologist and artist Jasmine Roberts painstakingly built her own digital twin, or avatar, using multiple technologies. This project was a reaction to the mostly white, thin, female virtual assistants she kept noticing in virtual, online worlds. Other artists like Joy Buolamwini and Minjun Kim force us to think about the present and future consequences of this technology like discrimination, surveillance, authorship and originality.

Advertisers have already created something akin to a digital twin, data bodies for individuals based on web browsing and search history - even making educated guesses as to which devices belong to the same user. There’s no visual avatar associated with these allegedly unidentifiable data bodies, but it could be a logical next step for the media advertising industry. Artificial intelligence could create visual avatars for individual data bodies with data about gender, race, household income, even physical characteristics like hair and body type - all pulled from sort of accurate guesses made by AI based on purchases and web browsing history. If not for personal privacy laws, companies would already attach your name to this data body - they’re dangerously close to doing it now.

At the end of the “Mirrorworld” article, Kelly invites us to participate in the “Mirrorworld”. It’s up to us if we participate by creating, regulating, engaging in or simply judging it. I hope artists are at the forefront and take the helm as we grapple with the benefits and consequences of creating virtual worlds and beings.

See what contemporary artists are saying at the AVATARS group art exhibitions this spring at the Nave Gallery in Somerville, MA

Image source: Unsplash