The use of digital twins in healthcare: socio-ethical benefits and socio-ethical risks

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Abstract

Anticipating the ethical impact of emerging technologies is an essential part of responsible innovation. One such emergent technology is the digital twin which we define here as a living replica of a physical system (human or non-human). A digital twin combines various emerging technologies such as AI, Internet of Things, big data and robotics, each component bringing its own socio-ethical issues to the resulting artefacts. The question thus arises which of these socio-ethical themes surface in the process and how they are perceived by stakeholders in the field. In this report we present the results of a qualitative study into the socio-ethical benefits and socio-ethical risks of using digital twins in healthcare. Employing insights from ethics of technology and the Quadruple Helix theory of innovation, we conducted desk research of white literature and 23 interviews with representatives from the four helixes: industry, research, policy and civil society. The ethical scan revealed several important areas where the digital twin can produce socio-ethical value (e.g., prevention and treatment of disease, cost reduction, patient autonomy and freedom, equal treatment) but also several important areas of socio-ethical risks (e.g., privacy and property of data, disruption of existing societal structures, inequality and injustice). We conclude with a reflection on the employed analytical tool and suggestions for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalLife Sciences, Society and Policy
Volume17
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2021

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