Digital Twins: What Are They and Does Your Brand Need One?

"The AI Economy," a newsletter exploring AI's impact on business, work, society and tech.
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It’s the calm before the storm.

We’re days away from some big AI announcements. OpenAI will hold an event on Monday, at which it’s reported to be showing off a Google Search competitor—Sam Altman says that won’t be the case. Speaking of Google, the company is holding its annual developer conference next week, and the following week will be consumed by product news from Microsoft as it holds multiple events, including its Build conference.

But before we’re flooded by talks of Gemini, ChatGPT, and Copilot, let’s examine a growing tech trend in AI: the rise of so-called Digital Twins. These aren’t ordinary chatbots you see on a mobile app or website. They’re digital replicas of a real-world physical product, system or process. So why are more software makers creating them for companies?

Organizations are using Digital Twins across industries, from fashion and clinical trials to semiconductor manufacturing and focus groups. This week, I spoke with Sprinklr Chief Executive Ragy Thomas about his company’s approach to this AI model. It has launched Digital Twins to help improve brands’ customer experience, and odds are, we’re going to be interacting with them soon, whether we know it or not.

The Prompt

“I’m sure you’ve tried chatbots, which is what you’re thinking as a Digital Twin—it’s not,” Thomas tells me. I had incorrectly assumed Sprinklr was announcing a chatbot similar to what Intercom, Zendesk, Drift and other providers offer. “You know what the most frustrating part of a chatbot is? It’s when you and I go there, spend three and a half minutes filling out a whole bunch of things, answering questions, and at the end of three and a half minutes, it goes, ‘please contact customer support.’”

The way he describes it, Digital Twins are more of a “breakthrough” as the technology sits atop Sprinklr’s platform, giving it access to all supported integrations, workflow engines, governance policies, and external data sources. This means it can be deployed across channels and used for multiple functions without having to retrain it for specific duties. It’s more autonomous and intelligent than the chatbot you access on a website when you don’t want to call someone for troubleshooting assistance.

Setting up the Digital Twin hierarchy within Sprinklr. Image credit: Sprinklr
Setting up the Digital Twin hierarchy within Sprinklr. Image credit: Sprinklr

Within the context of CX, Digital Twins could be thought of as digital replicas of an organization—think of it like the Star Trek computer onboard the Enterprise. But these aren’t sentient models, nor are they intended to replace human agents. Sprinklr aims to have them tackle all the mundane tasks teams deal with and address frequent customer issues.

“The Digital Twin is a foundational capability in Sprinklr that allows you to create an AI version of your brand, your teams and every employee,” Thomas says. “There are inbound and outbound cues, and every entity…gets alerted when the Digital Twin runs out of confidence. So, it just acts as an extension. When you speak to my Digital Twin, it handles everything. But when it doesn’t and it can’t, when you and I connect, it’s going to feel like we’re just picking up the conversation. And that’s the magic of the Digital Twin.”

Though he doesn’t envision the technology putting people out of work, Thomas admits he expects Digital Twins to be “the front of your brand,” meaning that no matter how your company is marketed, if there’s a call to action, the first “person” that a customer interacts with could be an AI agent.

But essentially surrendering the front office to AI may be uncomfortable to some, especially with the risks still posed by the technology. What about hallucinations, misinformation, or the Digital Twin doing something outrageous? In Sprinklr’s case, the company claims to have implemented self-developed guardrails to mitigate any potential dangers.

“The reason why AI hallucinates is because you don’t control the data [the model] is trained on,” Thomas asserts. Organizations wanting to develop low-risk models should begin by cataloging their content and creating version controls before incorporating them into the LLM. “If I don’t know what version is getting trained on, how do you maintain it?” he asks. And because Sprinklr has been doing this for a while, Thomas believes that’s a good reason for brands to trust his company to get it right.

Customer experience is one of the more pragmatic use cases of artificial intelligence. There’s also something to be said about Sprinklr’s use of the technology. The company has been in the social media space for nearly 15 years—imagine the conversational data it has that can train its AI to help its customers understand what people are complaining about, requesting, or wanting to learn more about.

In a way, Sprinklr’s Digital Twin could be a variation of Klout (don’t roll your eyes at me!), where it can proactively know how to tackle customer issues but be empowered to reward loyal customers or those who evangelize on the brand’s behalf.

“It’s a radically different approach,” Thomas states, acknowledging that adoption of these Digital Twins could take time, but he remains optimistic: “We’re betting the company on it.”

▶️ Read more about Sprinklr’s Digital Twin announcement on VentureBeat

Today’s Visual Snapshot

Microsoft's 2024 Work Trend Index reveals how power users are leveraging AI to reshape their workday and gain more productivity. Image credit: Microsoft
Microsoft’s 2024 Work Trend Index reveals how power users are leveraging AI to reshape their workday and gain more productivity. Image credit: Microsoft

Microsoft has released its fourth annual Work Trend Index, with this year’s focus on how AI is transforming the workplace. Among the key findings is the rise of power AI users and how they’re leveraging the technology to improve their workdays.

What constitutes being a power user? The study classifies those who are at least familiar with AI and use it several times a week to be in this category. The above chart illustrates the ways power users utilize the tech, from researching and trying new prompts and improving productivity to helping focus on work and be more creative.

It also highlights how other user types—skeptics, novices and explorers—view AI.

▶️ Read more about Microsoft’s Work Trend Index on VentureBeat

Quote This

Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai was interviewed by Bloomberg’s Emily Chang ahead of the company’s developer conference next week. Here are some highlights of how the executive responded to questions about Google’s AI strategy:

Should Google have been louder and more proactive in capitalizing on its transformer research before everyone else?

We use transformers in Search. That’s what led to large gaps in Search quality compared to other products. So we have infused transformers across our products. We have a chance to do that better with generative AI and with the Gemini series of models. And there’s going to be more breakthroughs in this field. But what is more important is we are driving that progress.

Will AI-generated content ruin search?

The challenge for everyone, and the opportunity, is how do you have a notion of what’s objective and real in a world where there’s going to be a lot of synthetic content? I think it’s part of what will define Search in the next decade. People often come to Google right away to see whether something they saw somewhere else actually happen. It’s a common pattern we see. We are making progress, but it’s going to be an ongoing journey.

What would Pichai do differently if he could go back before Microsoft invested in OpenAI?

We were in the first company to do search. We were in the first company to do email. We were in the first company to build a browser. So I view this AI as, we are in the earliest possible stages.

How has AI forced Pichai to move and think differently?

We have been preparing for this for a while. A lot of the foundation of breakthroughs in the field came from Google. So to me, this moment has been, over the past year, really channeling the company to meet the moment.

Neural Nuggets

🏭 Industry Insights

🤖 Machine Learning

✏️ Generative AI

☁️ Enterprise

⚙️ Hardware

🔬 Science and Breakthroughs

💼 Business and Marketing

📺 Media and Entertainment

💰 Funding

⚖️ Copyright and Regulatory Issues

💥 Disruption and Misinformation

End Output

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