Creating a model of the world
The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, (pictured right) ordered an elaborate burial chamber constructed on a scale almost unimaginable today. Around 700,000 men spent almost four decades building life-size models of warriors, farmers, officials, carts, horses, roads, farms, towers and palaces, as well as mercury simulations of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. These flowed mechanically to a mercury sea under a vaulted ceiling resplendent with depictions of heavenly constellations. The Emperor believed that if his model of the world were accurate enough, he would be able to continue to rule the empire in the afterlife. Understanding and seeing all as it happened in the real world, he would have omnipotence over every corner of the empire and realise his claim on universal and eternal rule as the “First August Thearch” (or god-ruler). His dream was one of total and enduring control through a complete understanding of everyone and everything within the empire.
Many Emperors shared the same dream of immortality through the construction of an enduring dynamic model of the world that was interchangeable with the real world: a facsimile so precise that to have mastery of the model was to have dominion over the world.
World building today
Transporting these emperors to the present, they would surely see progress in their dream of modelling the world, but have we managed to achieve the ultimate objective of creating a true facsimile of the world as it is? Some might say that Big Data has made available so much data that we must now be able to know the world, but the aim of Big Data is primarily to mine history, not to reveal the now. Big Data doesn’t provide dynamic behavioral responses. The Emperors’ desire to model the world as it is happening is proving more intractable.
The contemporary analogues of Emperors are decision-makers in business. They want to know what assets their companies possess - where assets may well be digital as well as physical, now that sources of data are of at least equal value as real things. They want to be able to see the state of things as they are so they can make decisions. They want a single source of truth. They want to run “what-if…?” scenarios to see which decisions make the biggest positive or the smallest negative impact. In short, they need a dynamic model of the real world. The contemporary analogues of the Emperor’s 700,000 army of builders and scores of overseers and bureaucrats are the data scientists, analysts and apps developers who must build these dynamic models.
Could “Digital Twins” be the solution to ancient Emperors’ and their modern-day counterparts’ dreams? Digital Twin is a buzz-phrase that is currently climbing the hype cycle, but what actually is a true Digital Twin? Many people apply the phrase to CAD/CAM 3D models of buildings, engines, components, etc., but these are static models of things that don’t have any dynamic data and don’t exhibit the behavior of the thing they claim to model. The model of the building doesn’t show how the building interacts with people waiting to use the lifts; the model of the engine doesn’t show how it works when some components are worn. These models don’t meaningfully interact with the world or each other.