Mirror Worlds: The Book That Predicted Digital Twins

The 1991 book, Mirror Worlds: or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox…How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean, by David Gelernter forecasts the development of detailed digital model replicas of real-world entities.

Although Gelernter doesn’t use the term digital twin directly, his ideas are fundamentally related to digital twin technology as we understand it today.

Gelernter, a Yale computer scientist who survived a mail bomb from Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in 1993, anticipated the technology more than a decade before the concept and model of the digital twin was publicly proposed in 2002.

In the book, he writes of Mirror Worlds, “They are software models of some chunk of reality, some piece of the real world going on outside your window.”

He illustrates oceans of information flowing endlessly into the model via a maze of software pipes and hoses.

That amount of information, he writes, is so vast the model “can mimic the reality’s move, moment-by-moment.”

The detailed models, or Mirror Worlds, are rich, updateable, and interactive simulations that reflect the real-world counterpart in digital form.

Data democratization and visualization, he predicts, would make complex information not just accessible but understandable to the general public. The information is collected via sensors and input devices and distributed via computer networks.

Although optimistic about the potential, Mirror Worlds also recognizes the potential ethical dilemmas and privacy concerns widespread surveillance and data collection introduce.

Digital twin technology, as it has evolved, aligns closely with Gelernter’s vision.
Digital twins are virtual replicas designed to accurately reflect a physical object, process, or system.

The living digital simulation models update and change in real-time with their physical counterparts.

In Gelernter’s imagining, the digital replicas are used for real-time monitoring, decision support, and simulation, predicting current applications of digital twin technology in industries spanning aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, and urban development.

Digital twin technology took off in the early 2010s in the aerospace and automotive sectors, notably NASA and GE, who deployed twins for complex system simulations and maintenance.

Though digital twin adoption has grown steadily, the ubiquity of the models in daily life at the individual level, as forecast in Mirror Worlds, hasn’t yet materialized.