Steering Representations—Towards a Critical Understanding of Digital Twins

Paulan Korenhof*, Vincent Blok, Sanneke Kloppenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Digital Twins are conceptualised in the academic technical discourse as real-time realistic digital representations of physical entities. Originating from product engineering, the Digital Twin quickly advanced into other fields, including the life sciences and earth 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 important societal roles, it is crucial to critically reflect on the nature of Digital Twins. In this article, we therefore philosophically reflect on Digital Twins by critically analysing dominant conceptualisations, the assumptions underlying them, and their normative implications. We dissect the concept and argue that a Digital Twin does not merely fulfil the role of being a representation, but is in fact a steering technique used to direct a physical entity towards certain goals by means of multiple representations. Currently, this steering 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1751-1773
JournalPhilosophy and Technology
Issue number4
Early online date7 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Critical understanding
  • Digital Twins
  • Philosophy
  • Representation
  • Technical discourse


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