The idea of a digital twin has recently caught the imagination of those working in urban analytics as well as other areas of computational social science. You might think that there is no such thing as a digital twin for anything digital is probably a model of the real thing and as such, it is not the real thing: it is an abstraction, a simplification, leaving a lot more out than that which is within. So how can it be a twin? And in any case, as we all know there are many digital versions of the real thing, many different models of the system that we aim to simulate. In this paper/presentation, I will discuss the idea of the digital twin, focussing on the conundrums that plague our field, but also suggesting that some of our models are getting a lot closer to the real thing, particularly as the real thing itself – in our case the city – is becoming ever more digital. In some areas, especially those that are concerned with the geometry of the system as in its architecture, then digital versions of the system are increasingly necessary simply to make the system work. In this sense, the twins are becoming inseparable from the system. Here I will present these ideas using some of our own models that illustrate how the infrastructure of the city is increasingly being incorporated into the model.
Michael Batty is Bartlett Professor of Planning at University College London where he is Chair of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA). He has worked on computer models of cities and their visualisation since the 1970s and has published several books, such as Cities and Complexity (MIT Press, 2005) and The New Science of Cities (MIT Press, 2013). Both books won the Alonso Prize of the North American Regional Science Association. His most recent book Inventing Future Cities was published by MIT Press in late 2018. His blogs www.complexcity.info cover the science underpinning the technology of cities and his posts and lectures on big data and smart cities are at www.spatialcomplexity.info. Prior to his current position, he was Professor of City Planning and Dean of the School of Environmental Design at the University of Wales at Cardiff from 1979 to 1990 and then Director of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1990 to 1995. He is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) and the Royal Society (FRS), was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2004 and the 2013 recipient of the Lauréat Prix International de Géographie Vautrin Lud. In 2015 he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his work on the science of cities. In 2016, he received the Senior Scholar Award of the Complex Systems Society and the Gold Medal of the Royal Town Planning Institute. In 2018, he was awarded the Waldo Tobler prize for GI Science of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and in 2019, he was elected as a Fellow of the Regional Science Association.