Engineering a Cyber Twin: How do we design identities online?

This is an excerpt from the essay ‘Engineering a Cyber Twin’, published by Centre for Internet and Society, and Hivos, in ‘Digital AlterNatives with a cause?’ | The Hague: July 2011 | Download the four-volume collective here.

Note: is a web-based artificial intelligence service founded by tech-duo Liesl Capper and John Zakos in 2005. Launched in April 2007, the service now claims in excess of34,400 users who have a ‘cyber twin’ or a chat-bot. Promoted as a service that seamlessly represents users anytime online, and across multiple platforms, including web, mobile, Instant Messenger, and virtual environments, can be deployed for the personal and home user, social media addict, large-scale corporations and businesses, government portals and so on.

Book 1: To Be. Cover image by Noopur Raval
Book 1: To Be / Cover by Noopur Raval

Each of us exhibits a digital signature that is peculiar to what or who we are online. These take the form of avatars. My avatar receives its cues from its offline ‘twin’. However, I neither deliberate over its responses nor do I have a conscious say in its growth. The body of reference that builds from my online detritus does not always accumulate in a controlled environment. The web service allows me to do just that: Artificially engineer a twin and let it loose on cyberspace as my virtual representation.


Would you agree when I say that the way we represent ourselves has much to do with the idea of how well we think we know ourselves and perhaps, less to do with choice or control? Consider this: We deliberate over our clothes, are picky about our food groups, finicky about television shows, have preferences for certain books, and who we hangout with. Our preferences act as guidelines for others to categorize us. What about decisions and preferences that are not deliberate?

How do we map representation online? How are our avatars perceived? Do we have autonomy to represent textual and non-textual information about ourselves in the manner we want to? Little trails lead people into forming definitive ideas of what makes you tick (Liking a Facebook page about Seinfeld must mean I am a fan of stand-up comedy, right?), and larger clues help reinforce semi-permanent prejudices (not having a Facebook account must mean I am anti-social, right?). Our avatars grow from the cues and stimuli we provide from this side of the screen, and then transform into independent personalities in their own right.

The case-study that follows details my exercise in understanding how we define and design identities online. I did this by signing up on MyCyberTwin, a web service that allows you to ‘engineer’ your avatar – what they refer to as cyber twin.

To read the essay further, please download Book 1 – To Be, here: or alternately, you can view it here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s