Bruce Dickinson’s Diary: Will we all soon have a digital twin?

The Iron Maiden lead singer discusses his new book What Does this Button Do?, edible drones, and flying.

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I’ve been on a book tour and among the various bookshop signings and interviews I did three theatre appearances. I thought they’d want me to do a reading and some bits and bobs but I decided I should turn it into something like a one-man show, because there’s no point in being on stage if you’re not going to be interesting.

So I nicked the template from the raconteur Quentin Crisp. When I was an undergraduate many years ago my girlfriend dragged me along to see his one-man show and it was brilliant. He did about a 45-minute monologue on style and then took questions from the audience written on cue cards, which he’d preselected. It was incredibly entertaining, so I copied him and basically winged it.

When we got to Edinburgh we had a thoroughly riotous evening, at the end of which the guy in charge of the venue said: “You should come back next year and do the Fringe with your one-man show.” I thought, well, in the spirit of the title of my book, What Does this Button Do?, it might be quite fun. Throwing yourself in at the deep end is kind of what I do, a lot.

Strange new world

After Edinburgh I had to do a corporate speech for Siemens in Berlin. So I flew in and it was all very serious; a technical conference with lots of software developers. The theme of the speech was: “Turn your customers into fans.” It is something I do in secret for a lot of different corporations around the world.

What the Siemens people are doing, though, is developing a “digital twin” for all of us, which will monitor the other twin – us – and give opinions. I don’t know how I feel about this; it’s all a bit between George Orwell and Brave New World. I’m not quite sure what my kids are going to inherit in terms of a world of permanent surveillance and monitoring, and even being replaced by digital twins. I think it’s potentially a lot more serious than our current obsession with Brexit. It seems to me that the Western world is facing a crisis over the next 20 years about who and what we are as humans.

Up in the air

I got a nice email over the weekend from the chief executive of Hybrid Air Vehicles, makers of the Airlander, the world’s biggest hybrid airship, which I was a seed investor into about ten years ago. It is currently flight-testing in Bedfordshire and doing very well.

Coincidentally I also had a chat with some guys who are developing an edible drone. I’m vice-chairman of a company called Pouncer. We are currently looking for a big investor and so are flying a technology demonstrator. It is a three-metre-wingspan drone that delivers food and medical supplies, and is basically a biodegradable glider. It costs £400 for the kit and each glider feeds 50 people for one day.

You chuck one out of the back of a C-130 aircraft, they glide for 25 kilometres and land within ten metres of where they need to be. So with famines, floods and disasters, when there aren’t helicopters available for the first weeks, it’s a super-cheap disaster-response tool that also happens to be eco-friendly. Most of it is made from compressed plant material that can then be composted or used as fuel for fires. It is comparable to the airship, which has vertical take-off and we think we can get pretty close to a zero-carbon flight. I have a pretty varied life.

The day job

I was in the pub the other night, taking things slightly more prosaically, when a bloke tapped me on the shoulder. “Ah, no,” I thought, “please don’t ask for a selfie.” But what he said was: “I just wanted to thank you for flying me home from Algeria five years ago.” Eh? What? “I was an oil worker in the Algerian desert,” he said, “and your airline used to fly me home every couple of weeks.”

It was a little reminder of the day job I used to do. It is nice when people say thank you for doing something that’s not related to music or being a rock star. It was a thank you very much for driving the bus, basically.

The silent seas

When this year’s poppy appeal was launched, I was at Sky News doing a piece about my book and didn’t have a poppy, so I put my special poppy on. It’s a big badge – a submariner’s poppy. A while back I went on patrol for five days in a nuclear sub, a Trident boat, and the submariners were absolutely wonderful. I loved the experience and got to ask lots of questions.

Last year I got invited to the Remembrance Parade for the Submarine Service, which is completely separate to the main Remembrance Sunday parade. They have their own private service a week earlier because the Submarine Service is the Silent Service and has developed this slightly piratical tradition. I was given this badge to wear then. It reminds you that there are all these people out there doing these extraordinary things, keeping quiet about it as they are busy protecting us. Hats off to all of them.

Bruce Dickinson is a pilot and the lead singer with Iron Maiden. His memoir “What Does this Button Do?” is published by HarperCollins

This article appears in the 09 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory sinking ship