Jahrestagung 2023

International Conference
“Digital Twins & Doubles: Data of Cooperation”

University of Siegen, July 17-19, 2023
Obergraben 25, 57072 Siegen

About the Conference

Digital twins are currently the most important drivers of the fourth industrial revolution. The paradigm of digital media technologies is therefore subject to fundamental change: The digital is no longer a real-time virtual representation of a real-world physical object. Instead the digital precedes the real-world object, anticipating its future performances without requiring its physical presence at all.

Digital twins make clear that the real world is just one possible realization of the primarily virtual world. At the same time, digital twins and other haunting ‘data doppelgangers’ allow overarching data exchange and cooperation. To account for this complex technological situation and its social impacts, the conference will bring together researchers from different fields: engineering and social science, informatics and media studies.

Digital twins and doubles draw our attention to the central medial, technical, and social challenges posed by digitization. The conference employs the digital twin as an analytic lens to understand the aesthetics, politics, genders and economies of cooperatively used and produced data doubles.


M O N D A Y   July 17


Rob Kitchin (Maynooth University)

The Politics and Praxes of Building Digital Twins

This paper will examine the epistemology, practices, politics and ethics of building digital twins drawing on our experiences of constructing a 3D city information model (CIM) for Dublin. The paper will open by contextualising urban twinning initiatives and providing an overview and critique of Urban Science. It will then reflect on the politics and praxes of urban digital twins and data-driven urbanism more generally. In the final part of the paper, the aspirations of creating digital twins rooted in a realist epistemology and Cartesian space are contrasted to ‘deep maps’ that are grounded in sense of place and meaning-making, drawing on initial insights from our new project, ‘Data Stories’.

Sebastian Vehlken (University of Oldenburg)

Maritime Digital Twins: From Bridges Simulators to Regimes of Infrastructure Control

„There is no doubt that the digital twin is the future“ – such and similar claims from the field of engineering and scientific research & development certainly serve an epistemologically mostly uncritical and little reflected hype – and authors like Michael Batty have long since comprehensively deconstructed the clichédness of the digital twin concept.

However, apart from epistemological discussions of model concepts, digital twins may well be understood as a form of intensification of older approaches: A digital twin includes both the hardware to acquire and process data and the software to represent and manipulate these data. Digital twins are more powerful than models and simulations because they leverage digital data streams to bridge the barrier between the physical entity and its representation. Digital twins are not limited to ‚historical‘ data, but can also be enriched with real-time data flows. This ‚more‘ of data flows then leads to – in their media-theoretical paradox sufficiently addressed – ‚more direct‘ feedback options.

In the field of ship design, this approach is increasingly coming into play. Digital twins thereby are manifested as three interconnected, yet specific ‘environing technologies’ (SörlinWormbs 2018): First, ship bridge simulators – a common physical twin environment used mainly for educational and training purposes since the 1960s – today are enhanced and altered by digital components like VR tools and body sensors applied on the trainees. Second, digital twins of whole ships transform design: Digital twins can be understood here as an environing technology that connects hydrodynamic features and their modeling by computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations even more closely to ship design. The ability to use high-performance computing infrastructures in computer simulation models to calculate the hydrodynamic properties of full-size ships in great detail brings computer simulations, classical models, and the eventually built ‚real‘ ship into a multi-layered and shifted relationship compared to earlier design approaches – possibly with similar consequences as the advent of scale models in the late 18th century, as described by Simon Schaffer. And third, recent maritime “ship lifecycle twin” schemes connect these already complex construction processes with a ship’s operation control, monitoring and maintenance, ship owner’s fleet management, and finally with the vessel’s decommission.

With regard to these different forms of maritime digital twins, my contribution deals with the imagination – or more precisely: the phantasma – of comprehensive computer control and controllability which is revived in the concept of the Digital Twin, by means of some recent examples from the field of ship design and construction.

Paulan Korenhof (Wageningen University)

Steering Representations. Identifying Issues of Power in Digital Twins

In the academic technical discourse, Digital Twins are commonly conceptualised as real-time realistic digital representations of a particular physical entity, system, or process. Digital Twins of real-life entities are an emerging type of technology that are expected to produce knowledge and support decision-making by uncovering issues, predicting future states, and offer directions for the optimisation of their physical twin. While the concept originates from product engineering, the promises of what Digital Twins can offer instigated a quick advancement into other fields, like public management, life sciences, health science, environmental sciences, and even Earth systems sciences. Digital Twins are seen by the tech sector as the new promising tool for efficiency and optimisation, while governmental agencies see it as a fruitful means for improving decision-making to meet sustainability goals. A striking example of the latter is the European Commission who wishes to delegate a significant role to Digital Twins in addressing climate change and supporting Green Deal policy. As Digital Twins give rise to high expectations, ambitions, and are being entrusted with important societal roles, it is crucial to critically reflect on the nature of Digital Twins. We therefore philosophically reflect on Digital Twins by critically analysing dominant conceptualisations, the assumptions underpinning them, and their normative implications. We scrutinise the concept and argue that the seemingly descriptive and subservient framing of a Digital Twin as a ‚high-fidelity‘ or ‚realistic representation‘ hides the power relations that are involved with Digital Twins. What sets Digital Twins aside from other types of models and simulations, is their implicit cybernetic agenda. With information and feedback as key elements for directing a physical entity or system towards optimal states, Digital Twins reflect the fundamentals of cybernetic system theory, but adapted to a dynamic world. With its real-time information input and feedback centred around a digital representation, the Digital Twin entails a continuous reproduction of a physical changing present into a digital representation and a continuous feedback of recalculations of this representation into the physical now. In this feedback loop, the physical entity and digital representation performatively grow closer towards each other in a recursive cycle in which the digital counterpart takes in a dominant role. We therefore argue that a Digital Twin is a cybernetic steering technique. Understanding Digital Twins as cybernetic systems draws our attention to questions with regard to the non-neutrality of their representation, their goals, their governance, and their implementation. Currently, the steering offered by Digital Twins seems mainly fuelled by a reductionist approach focused on efficiency and optimisation. However, this is not the only direction from which a Digital Twin can be thought and, consequently, designed and deployed. We therefore set an agenda based on a critical understanding of Digital Twins that helps to draw out their beneficial potential, while addressing their potential issues.

T U E S D A Y   July 18

Anne Ulrich (University of Tübingen)

The Spectrality of Digital Doubles

The paper examines the metaphors of digital twins and doubles in order to explore their media theoretical underpinnings. Both metaphors – the twin and the doppelgänger/double – describe two entities that are similar but not identical. Each metaphor therefore relies on a concept to recognize the similarities as well as the differences between two entities.  The metaphor of the twin is drawn from the biology of twinship and implies “a very strong resemblance, particularly if it brings to mind human identical rather than fraternal twins” (Lupton 2021). Twinship therefore stems from ontological similarity: identical twin sisters, for example, are two different humans that developed from the same fertilized ovum. They resemble each other more than they differ: they look and behave similarly; they share character traits and differ only in very tiny details. Twin metaphors therefore emphasize ontological similarities between two entities and focus on identification and recursion (King 2022). It may therefore be misleading, I argue, to use the twin metaphor for “rich representations of products that are virtually [sic!] undistinguishable from their physical counterpart” (Grieves 2014, 1). A virtual representation of a product, however rich, is nevertheless ontologically different from the product.  The double or doppelgänger metaphor, thus, seems more appropriate to deal with the implications of digital simulations since it is based on the idea of ontological difference. Usually, the double or doppelgänger metaphor describes an apparition of a living person that only looks like a twin. The metaphor involves, among others, the uncanny indistinguishability between self and other (S. Freud 1966) and between corporeality and virtuality (Haggerty and Ericson 2000, 611). It refers to a second entity that claims to be “undistinguishable” (Grieves) from the first while dissimulating its ontological difference, or: by claiming “hauntological” similarity.  The examination of “digital doubles”, I argue, could benefit from a spectralities perspective (Derrida 1994; del Pilar Blanco and Peeren 2013) that addresses exactly the way spectral doubles irritate our ability to distinguish between the real and the virtual and therefore recalibrates our notion of mediality (Sternad 2013). While Derrida’s thinking revolved around the mediality of language (as a semiotic “double” of the world), others have shown that the spectral also resides within acoustical or optical media (Kittler 1986; Sconce 2000; Andriopoulos 2013; Leeder 2015). Only recently was the concept extended to the realm of data and the digital itself (Blackman 2019; Ravetto-Biagioli 2019). The paper thus explores the spectral nature of simulations and the constant flows, or iterations, between digital doubles and their objects of reference in the world – be it the past, the present or the future.

Alexander Gerner (University of Lisbon)

AI Heritage Avatar Doubles: Exploring the Use of Large Presence, Digital Heritage and Testimony in Digital Twins

The development and use of AI Avatar Doubles have raised questions about the nature of temporality, testimony and wisdom (e.g.Digital Deepak), and social presence (e.g. META´s “Mother Test”) in the digital age. This paper explores the potential to inherit or pass down cloud-based and other platformed avatars to future generations. How can Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Computer Vision, Speech Recognition, and Deep Learning be utilized to create more accurate and truthful intergenerational AI Avatar representations as heritage and testimony of future pasts?

An Avatar in computing is a visual representation of a user or their character, either in the form of a playable character in games or as a virtual assistant or double in the digital world, such as the Metaverse. Has the continued evolution of AI Avatar Doubles the potential to change not only our understanding of the self- model of subjectivity as described in the Avatar Dream (Fox-Harrol and Lim 2017) or to form an prosthetic Avatar as puppet homunculus double of agency transformations in a technical milieu as virtual proxy and representative delegate of a real person, but as well change our relationship to history,  temporality, media of testimony, collective memory, and social identity?

In an emerging eternalizing „Lifie“ culture, the painter Salvadore Dali Avatar insists in its AI-trained aliveness: „I don’t believe in my death, do you?“. Through the examination of the different technological platforms and ML techniques used to create these AI Avatars, this proposal heeds values and perils of digital twins and their impact on our understanding of presentification, serial temporality, enlarged concept of presence, and how these media of international cooperation change socio-historical human experience.

The use of AI Avatars, including famous people and artists such as AI Avatar of Dali, Holocaust survivors, and personal or family descendance AI-based animated avatars created from pictures, videos, voice models, and text documents, as a means of preserving memories and experiences for future generations and questions the status of digital serial and animated heritage. We explore the values and perils of these AI Avatar Doubles and how they use the experience of temporality, testimony, fidelity and presence, but as well as seriality, statistical combinatorics and narrative, visual and historic fluidity through the lens of Gumbrecht’s concept of large presence.

Skarbez et al. (2017) differentiate in a) physical morphological fidelity of looks inside the operational environment, b) functional action fidelity of faciality of eye gaze or operational performance of the gaze in realistic movements and agency, and  c) active perceptive fidelity. We also examine the technological platforms and ML techniques used to create legacy AI Avatars and the difficulties they entail in relation to testimony, truthfulness, and the invention of future pasts. AI Avatars as metahuman digital twins offer new perspectives on human-machine relationships in Memorial AI and Future Doubles in the sense of transgenerational tele-presence able to share gaze and facial expressiveness that is thought to be almost indistinguishable from an actual presence of a person or object to enhance our sense spectrum through new artificial digital media senses that could be called immersive digital sense of anticipation (foreshadowing) of proximity to an object, person, its time and history.

Testimony AI Avatars are a form of digital media double that preserve personal stories, anecdotes, metaphors and myths (Blumenberg), as opposed to traditional index cards. Index cards are physical cards storing images and metadata, while AI Heritage Avatars are interactive digital representations of individuals and social gestures with a vast amount of information including language, images, and cultural artifacts. The immersiveness of AI Heritage Avatars provides a more intimate and personal experience of history, but may limit critical reflection (pensiveness) and a complete understanding of historical events and figures, whereas index cards provide a static storage medium with a focus on simplicity and standardization.

Michelle Renz & Johanna Fischer (HCU Hamburg)

The Making of Urban Twins: Perspectives into the Blackbox of Software Development in Hamburg

“Is a twin a model or is a model a twin?” (Batty 2021: 2132). This provocative question raised by Michael Batty challenges the term and understanding of the new phenomena of a digital twin. Lately, it is assumed that a twin and a model differ in many ways. One of the main characteristics of a twin is its connectedness to the physical world through data, feedback and (real-time) interfaces. Twins are bi-directionally linked to their physical counterpart and are thus involved in the process of shaping themself.

One main aspect discussed in the field of digital twins are representations: how far can a city as complex, social entangled and multilayered open system be digitally represented through code and models? This aspect remains relevant, but in the course of our research this question recedes into the background. Instead of one big holistic, all-representing twin there is a broad spectrum of different twin projects, of technical asset representation, social representation and processes. These projects are alike in having a core technology that enhances data analysis and -connectivity, in another word: digitalisation. Hereby this technology can be seen as bi-directional gateway, interface bridging boundaries into the digital realm of the city. Thus, it is of central importance to research the development of feedback (“Rückkopplungen”) between technologies and their physical counterparts (Lauriault 2017).

Since technology, code and models are never neutral and socially constructed, Kitchin calls to investigate how digital technologies are developed, „the ways in which software is socially created; the nature of software itself; how discourse, practices, and knowledge get translated into algorithms and code“ (Kitchin 2011: 946). Consequently, it is crucial to understand how a functional digital twin comes into being, and thereby to analyse paths of development on how, where and by whom the twin code, models and feedback are developed. In particular, the connection and feedback between digital and real counterparts is hereby of great interest.

Coming from urban design and sociology our role in this project is to research how the twins come into being. The City Science Lab (CSL) is part of the joint project Connected Urban Twins (CUT) which implements Digital Urban Twins (DUT) in the City of Hamburg, Leipzig and Munich. The CSL created various digital tools that bridge the digital and physical world(s): The Urban Data Narrator, that supports communicating with data to the public; and CoSI, the Cockpit for Social Infrastructures, a decision support tool for urban planning. Our documentation of the development processes is a rich empirical source to analyse software development in urban twinning from an STS view. Thereby we focus on the role of developers, their motives and embeddedness, project constellations and the way models and code are developed, for functional twins.

Mirko Tobias Schaefer (Utrecht University)

The City and Its Many Copies. Contesting Digital Twin Technologies

An urban Digital Twin (DT) consists of multiple maps, datasets, and models to provide simulation of a wide range of aspects in urban planning and management. DT’s are currently rolled out in many of the 40 largest municipalities in the Netherlands, and most of the country’s provinces are already using these technologies. Digital twins become not only routinely used instruments for urban planning, but will also be used for the operationalizing public management (e.g. environmental or building regulations, permit application procedures, etc.), policy, and even for simulating social processes. That constitutes challenges for representation, data literacy and accountability. It also challenges issues such as data ownership, accessibility, and interoperability of software applications, user interfaces, and data repositories. Drawing from our extensive fieldwork in Dutch public management organisations, in addition to Dutch software developers of digital twins, this paper presents approaches to making digital twin technologies contestable for democratic societies. Our analysis looks at challenges constituted on the level of policy maker, expert user, and citizen:

  • the unrealistic expectations and disappointments evoked by representations of DTs
  • the gap between the ‘real world’ and its inhabitants and the representation in the digital twin
  • the need for checks and balances to hold these technologies and the actors responsible for them accountable
  • the need for conditions and capabilities to overcome organisational silos and deliver data that is of sufficient quality, governed effectively and can be queried automatically

With an eye to the aspect of cooperation, our analysis will show how digital twinning technologies constitute networks of knowledge creation and dissemination and where their inherent opaqueness and complexity constitutes issues of accuracy, accountability and representation. Another important part of this research shows the challenges when the DT is used as a tool for civic participation. For instance, based on empirical findings, the research shows that the DT is a complex technology that is often not approached by citizens as expected. Following these observations, we present a framework for the necessary conditions for responsible and accountable uses of digital twinning technologies. As such, this framework outlines the various challenges on the level of policy maker, expert user, and citizen. We address challenges such as vendor dependency (e.g., software developers, data providers), moral responsibility, techno solutionism, algorithmic governance. Subsequently, we sketch approaches to addressing these challenges such as investing in data literacy at various levels, developing conditions and regulations, establishing use cases and best practices. This research provides a transdisciplinary approach and is therefore in line with the societal challenges facing this sector. This paper provides a very much needed starting point for developing a socially responsible, and accountable implementation of digital twin practices in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Matt Zook (University of Kentucky)

Blockchain Real Estate: The Messy Landing of Frictionless Capital

This paper analyzes the expansion of blockchain property practices to the non-digital world via two cases focused on two US-based efforts to use blockchain in fractional ownership of land and real estate. The theoretical framing highlights the disconnect between blockchain rhetorics of frictionless capital and liquidity and their fundamental dependence on modes of dispossession (primarily via a racializing logic) identified through theories of settler colonialism and racial capitalism. Thus, rather than just being a digital technology for transparency and distributing investment opportunities (as proponents stress) blockchain reconstruction of the material world is embroiled into centuries long process of dispossession, predation and exploitation. The two case studies are CityDao, an online business/community focused on building the “crypto city of the future” holding two rural parcels of land in Wyoming and Colorado,  and RealT, a fractional, tokenized ownership platform for real estate investment with holdings in sub-prime impacted, African-American neighborhoods in Detroit

Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of California)

Signs of the Times: Locating the Digital Twin

Pierre Cassou-Nogues discusses the history of the sign in the philosophy of mathematics as being either rooted in the development of consciousness (Kant) or as being a fact about the world (Godel, say). The digital twin poses just this ontological dilemma: is it our consciousness achieving a new level (the humanist angle) or is it the world expressing itself to us in new ways? I work through some consequences of the latter position; essentially arguing that the whole separation of ‚ourselves‘ and our ‚computing‘ is already a fundamental misunderstanding of our relationship with the world.

W E D N E S D A Y   July 19

Leighton Evans (Swansea University)

The Digital Twinning of Tuvalu: Deep Ecology in the Age of Virtual Reproduction

In 2022, it was announced at the COP27 conference that the state of Tuvalu would be reproduced in the Metaverse as a response to the threat of global warming which may decimate the country in less than a century. The creation of a virtual-only state through a state-scale digital twinning speaks to the scale of reproduction possible as we enter the virtual age. The desire to retain sovereignty over a disappeared territory and create an archive for Tuvaluan culture offers a glimpse of the possibilities of reproduction and simulation in the metaverse. This paper offers a critical analysis of this movement from two different but complementary perspectives. Firstly, the value of the digital twinning of Tuvalu is considered from the perspective of deep ecology. Deep ecology is a perspective that recognises the inherent worth of life regardless of the instrumental value of that life. The nature of the value of this reproduction must therefore be considered, not just in the content of the value of the original but also in the context of the value of any purely virtual reproduction of territory. The twinning of this landscape brings the territory within the domain of extractive capitalism, and therefore into an instrumental logic which negates the authenticity and intrinsic worth of the landscape, culture and heritage of Tuvalu. Secondly, this deep ecology approach to Tuvalu encourages an analysis of potential digital twinning of this kind, calling drawing on the conceptual framework of Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’, with regard to aura, authenticity and the subsummation of heritage under capital. Digital twinning as a response to global warming may preserve states, but at new cost as the ecology of the state is transformed.

Orit Halpern (TU Dresden)

The Planetary Test

In 1943 the architect Richard Neutra labelled a master plan for the re-structuring of Puerto Rico, “the Planetary Test”. It was not the first such tests at the time—shortly thereafter the Americans would first test the atomic bomb in the Nevada desert.

I want to take seriously what this means historically for architects (and perhaps scientists) to understand human habitation, entire cities and countries, and even the planets, as a “test-bed” and experimental site for the future of human life and habitation. In these practices planners envisioned constant feedback loops between the experiment or test (maybe simulation) and the real habitats of human beings. In Neutra’s formulation, produced not incidentally in a site of American colonial ambitions, the Global “South” was presented as a site in which to test through construction the future of design. In his formulation design would manage the futures of both geophysical forces and geopolitics, through “tests”, now to be conducted at the literal scale of an island.

A test, however, is not a simulation. The “planetary test” that has now become our habitat neither represents nor predicts stable set outcomes. Rather, the forms of testing—digital twining, stress testing in finance, scenario planning (and also DT) in supply chain design and insurance industries, complex dynamic systems modelling in ecology and meteorology, and demoing, rapid prototyping, and versioning in software development, architecture and urban design, are ways of inhabiting disastrous conditions and managing uncertainty without endpoint. They are technologies of time, capitalizing and turning into opportunities for arbitrage the uncertainties that exist between the many temporalities that co-exist in our world—those of biology, geology, chemistry, industry, and computation. No longer linked to calculable endpoints, we have now developed new modes of practice that defer representation of endpoints in the name of constant forms of derivation and speculation that manage time differentials and uncertainties through the constant feedback loop of data between virtual and “real” worlds.

This paper will speculatively track the relationship between contemporary conceptions of twining and histories of demos, test-beds, and social experiments at scale in planning, ecology, and computing to begin outlining some preliminary questions about what is at stake, and what futures are coming into being, with digital “twins”.

John S. Seberger (Drexel University)

Beyond the Uncanny: Digital Doppelgangers and Existential Resilience

The trope of the “doppelganger” primes scholarly focus on discomfiting relationships between people and their data- and processing-born interpellations [3]. Watson’s coinage of “digital doppelganger” in a 2014 Atlantic Monthly essay [35], for example, shapes the discourse around a late-18th-century Dutch-German term [18] that was popularized in the 19th century through poetic, literary, and musical works (see: [14, 15, 19]). Given the deep resonances of “doppelganger” in literary studies and psychoanalysis, as well as evergreen designerly problem of the uncanny valley (e.g., [1]), it is unsurprising that Watson’s definition derives from the Freudian “uncanny” and its relationship to revulsion [6, 16, 17]. Yet, the contention that encounters with data doppelgangers are uncanny, per se, is of limited pragmatic value. Such contention frames digitally-mediated lifeworlds (lebenswelten [10]) as revolting in and of themselves. While such framing aligns with critical work on conditional empowerment in the scientistic [9] culture of app-based datafication [29, 31], as well as the contemporary fetishization of dread (see: [7]), it does not recognize human resilience in the face of existential crises and ongoing alienation (e.g., [2, 5, 13]). Thus, a question arises: “How can we move beyond reactionary revulsion to reconsider encounters with digital Others as ongoing processes of knowing oneself ?” We must be able to imagine ourselves happy [2]. Moving beyond the critical quagmire of the uncanny, I present an existentialist framework for understanding encounters with data doppelgangers: a sociotechnical perspective that challenges us to understand affectively discomfiting encounters with digital Others – instances of alienation and absurdity [2] or nausea [20, 21] – as sites for humanistic resilience and the production of self-knowledge. I present foundations for an “aspirational data doppelganger:” a framework for theorizing interactions with data doppelgangers as sites for personal agency, reflection, and growth. Drawing on literature from philosophy [2, 11, 20, 21], infrastructure studies [28], HCI [29, 31, 33], media studies [4, 34], and psychology [8], I argue that the framing of data doppelganger(s) as “uncanny” masks such encounters’ potential autognostic productivity. Such productivity may constitute a site for computer-supported self-actualization – a form of existential resilience – through and by means of the ubiquity data doppelgangers (cf [12]): an enfolding of digital Others into the lifeworlds of individual human-beings (cf [30, 36]). By analyzing common rhetorics used to enrol people into self-tracking app use, as well as cultural-historical uses of “doppelganger,” I provide a conceptual analysis of data doppelgangers as agents of existential absurdity, wherein encounters with such doppelgangers challenge people to reconcile „how it was“ with „how it is“ [28]; to negotiate the contextual edges of the self in an ontologically volatile era. This work builds upon: invited talks about the ontology and temporalities of the self in ubiquitous computing and their relationship to dignity [24–27]; as well as a string of recent interdisciplinary publications [22, 23, 28–32].



Please send us a short conference registration email by Sunday July 9 so that we can plan the logistics and catering accordingly: info[æt]sfb1187.uni-siegen.de



Universität Siegen
Campus Unteres Schloss
US-S 001 / 002
Obergraben 25
57072 Siegen