This post originally appeared on LinkedIn, November 7, 2016.
In the past five decades we have witnessed the 'digital transformation' of most businesses and even our lives, creating profound changes in our societies. The way to track data or transactions, the way we collaborate and communicate, have all been changed and advanced through digital technology.
Nowadays a lot of the focus has shifted from business or personal records and social engagement - although these remain foundational components of digital society - to things. Specifically the Internet of Things (IoT), now a pervasive topic part of global discussion on digital technology.
But what is really so new about Iot? These things have been generating and consuming data since the dawn of automation. And we have been managing this data for a while now, so what is so different?
Think about it this way: in the previous waves of digitalization, for records and communications, the digitalization process was in fact dematerialization, moving from paper order, pay checks or love letters to digital only objects. When it comes to digitalizing things, the 'thing' does not disappear, it continues to exist and operate!
This is why there is a need for new types of technologies for this next wave of digitalization--a technology that pairs digital objects to physical objects. A technology that is dynamic, learning and also interactive.
This pairing technology was pioneered by NASA research in the early days of space exploration. NASA grappled with the challenge of designing things that travel so far away, beyond the ability to immediately see, monitor or modify. NASA's innovation was a digital twin of the physical system, a complete digital model that can be used to operate, simulate and analyze an underlying system governed by physics.
This idea of a digital twin is now being develop in the IoT space, and it is rapidly becoming the technology of choice for digitalizing the physical world. It is the bridge between the physical and the digital world.
What are digital twins exactly? Fundamentally, it is the combination of data and intelligence that represent the structure, context and behavior of a physical system of any type, offering an interface that allows one to understand past and present operation, and make predictions about the future. These are very powerful digital objects that can be used to optimize the physical world, significantly improving operational performance and business processes.
This is part of what we are working on at GE Digital.