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28 Jan, 23

Revolutionizing the Mining Industry: How AI is Transforming Exploration, Operations, and Reclamation

BurgexMine Consulting, Mine Valuation, Mining Resources|News, News

By: Stuart Burgess 

Today I virtually sat down with one of the leading artificial intelligence (AI) platforms that is trained specifically in language models –you can interact with it conversationally. This platform, which became virally popular shortly after launch in late 2022 is known as Chat GPT. While there is a lot of speculation about what jobs AI is likely to replace (even the AI itself has opinions on this), I thought it would be interesting to get its opinion on how AI will impact the mining and mineral exploration industries moving forward.  

I have informed the AI about my intentions to conduct an interview about the potential impacts of AI on the mining industry and have asked it to respond in a friendly, interesting, and not overly- technical manner.

 

Stuart: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

AI: Sure! I am ChatGPT, a large language model developed by OpenAI. I have been trained on a vast amount of text data, which allows me to understand and respond to a wide range of topics, including the impact of AI on the mining industry. I can provide information, answer questions, and even carry on a conversation. My main goal is to make complex information easy to understand and accessible to everyone.

Stuart: Do you often get asked questions about mining?

AI: As a language model, I can respond to a wide range of topics including mining. I am a general-purpose AI and can answer questions on a variety of subjects such as mining, finance, healthcare, and more. However, depending on the specific questions, my knowledge may be more or less detailed. I do my best to provide accurate and helpful information, but in case if there is any specific question that I’m not able to answer, I’ll let you know.

Stuart: I think humans are having a difficult time generally wrapping their heads around all the potential uses of AI and how it will impact their lives now and in the future. For those of us in an industry like mining or mineral exploration, I think we often wonder how it may impact our industry specifically. Could you provide some big picture clarity on how AI may impact us both personally as professionally?

AI: AI has the potential to revolutionize the mining industry in a number of ways. On a personal level, it could lead to more efficient and safer working conditions, as well as new opportunities for workers to upskill and take on more advanced roles.

Professionally, AI can be used to improve many aspects of the mining process, such as exploration, resource planning, and production. For example, AI-powered systems can analyze vast amounts of data to identify new mineral deposits, predict equipment failures, and optimize mining operations.

One example is using AI in the exploration process, which can help mining companies find minerals and resources faster and more efficiently, by identifying patterns and anomalies in the data that might otherwise be missed by human geologists.

Another example is in the production process, where AI can be used to optimize equipment performance, prevent downtime and reduce costs by predicting and avoiding equipment failures.

Overall, the use of AI in the mining industry has the potential to significantly increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve safety and sustainability.

A geologist stands in the desert with modern tools used, including AI in mining.
Geologist of the future goes prospecting with AI. Image generated by Deep Dream Generator.

Stuart: I think its interesting that you mentioned the use of AI in the exploration process. This is one of the first potential uses of AI in the industry that I was made aware of several years ago. There is a company called KoBold Metals that is using AI to find cobalt deposits around the world. Do you think more companies will start using similar models to what they are developing?

AI: It’s definitely possible that more companies will start using similar models to what companies like KoBold Metals are developing. The use of AI in the exploration process can provide a significant competitive advantage, as it allows mining companies to find new mineral deposits faster and more efficiently than traditional methods. This can lead to cost savings and increased revenue for the companies that adopt it.

AI-based exploration methods are also more environmentally friendly, as they can reduce the need for drilling and other resource-intensive exploration methods. As the mining industry becomes more competitive, and regulations increase, companies will be looking for ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency and AI will play an important role in this.

In addition, with the growth of technology and increase in data availability, the use of AI in mineral exploration will become more and more prevalent. Companies that are not using AI-based exploration methods may find themselves at a disadvantage in the future as the industry continues to evolve.

Stuart: My understanding is that KoBold has evolved as a fusion mining/tech company that is primarily backed by technology investors. They have also built out a staff with traditional mining and geological knowledge. I think this puts them in a great position to deploy AI to find critical mineral deposits, but what about all the exploration companies that don’t have the technology backing or knowledge? Will these companies have to partner with AI developers to succeed or is it possible that someone, like OpenAI for example, could develop a platform that exploration companies could license and utilize?

AI: It’s definitely possible that exploration companies without a technology background or expertise in AI could partner with AI developers to gain access to this technology. Many companies in the mining industry may not have the resources or expertise to develop AI-based exploration methods in-house, but they can still benefit from the technology by working with companies that specialize in it.

There are also some companies, like OpenAI, that are developing general-purpose AI platforms that can be used in a variety of industries, including mining. These platforms could be licensed by exploration companies and used to develop AI-based exploration methods.

Another option for mining companies is to develop internal teams to work on AI projects, this way they will be able to adapt the technology to their specific needs. This could involve hiring data scientists and other AI experts, or training existing employees in these skills.

Overall, there are a number of different ways that exploration companies can access AI-based exploration methods. Some may choose to partner with AI developers, while others may choose to develop the technology in-house or license it from a general-purpose AI platform. Ultimately, the key for companies is to find a solution that works best for them and their specific needs.

Stuart: I think this is a real game changer for the mineral exploration industry, especially now when economical deposits of many minerals are becoming more and more difficult to discover.

AI: Yes, AI has the potential to be a game changer for the mineral exploration industry, as it can help companies find new deposits faster and more efficiently than traditional methods. It can also help companies optimize their exploration efforts by identifying patterns and anomalies in the data that might otherwise be missed by human geologists.

The use of AI in exploration can also help companies reduce costs and increase revenue by finding new deposits faster, and it can also help to increase the sustainability of the industry by reducing the need for drilling and other resource-intensive exploration methods.

Another important aspect is the fact that AI can help companies to find new deposits in areas that are difficult to access, such as deep underground or in remote locations.

It’s worth noting that AI is not a panacea and it’s not going to replace traditional exploration methods entirely, but it is going to be a very useful tool to find new mineral deposit, to optimize the mining process and to reduce costs.

Stuart: That last part is notable – I think that AI is eventually going to really help find drilling targets, but at the end of the day, the drilling still needs to happen.

AI: You’re correct, AI can help identify drilling targets, but the actual drilling still needs to happen. AI can help to optimize the exploration process by identifying areas where mineral deposits are likely to be found, but it still requires traditional exploration methods to confirm the presence of the deposit.

Once the deposit has been confirmed, AI can also be used to optimize the mining process by helping to identify the most efficient ways to extract the minerals. For example, AI can be used to analyze data from drilling and mining operations to identify patterns and anomalies that can help to optimize the process. This can help to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

It’s important to note that AI is not a replacement for traditional exploration methods, but it can be used as a powerful tool to enhance the exploration process and find new mineral deposit more effectively.

Stuart: I think this will be comforting for some in the exploration industry who may be concerned that eventually AI may phase out their jobs entirely.

AI: It’s true that AI has the potential to automate certain tasks and make some jobs redundant, but it’s also likely to create new jobs and opportunities in the mining industry. For example, as mining companies start to adopt AI and other advanced technologies, they will need to hire data scientists, AI experts, and other skilled professionals to develop and maintain these systems.

Moreover, many jobs in the mining industry require a combination of technical and human skills, such as geologists, engineers and other technical professionals, AI will enhance their work by providing them with more accurate data, faster results and new insights that will help them to make better decisions. These professionals will be key in interpreting the results and making the final decision about the exploration process.

Also, many jobs in the mining industry are on-site jobs, such as drilling, blasting, and operating heavy machinery, these tasks are difficult to automate and are likely to remain the responsibility of human workers.

In short, while it’s true that AI has the potential to automate certain tasks and make some jobs redundant, it’s also likely to create new jobs and opportunities in the mining industry. It’s important to work together with the industry to find ways to use AI to enhance the exploration process, not to replace human workers.

Stuart: I agree, ultimately AI is a powerful tool that will change the industry, but there will still be a need for human interaction. I think it is becoming clear though, that companies will need to find ways to adopt and integrate the technology or they may be left in the dust.  

AI: Yes, that’s a very good point. As AI and other advanced technologies continue to evolve, companies in the mining industry will need to find ways to adopt and integrate them in order to remain competitive. Companies that are able to harness the power of AI and other advanced technologies will be better positioned to identify new mineral deposits, optimize the exploration and mining process, and improve their bottom line.

It’s also important to mention that government and industry organizations also have a role in this process by creating the right framework to support the development and deployment of new technologies in the mining industry, and to ensure that the benefits are shared by all stakeholders.

Companies that don’t adopt these technologies may struggle to compete and may eventually be left behind. As mining companies increasingly adopt AI, it will become a standard in the industry, and companies that don’t adapt will find themselves at a disadvantage.

In summary, the mining industry is on the cusp of a technological revolution, and the companies that are able to harness the power of AI and other advanced technologies will be better positioned to succeed in the future.

Stuart: That’s an excellent summary. I think the mining industry is definitely on the cusp of a technological revolution – and it’s just in time to capture what could be a very profound bull cycle in commodities overall. Shifting the focus a bit, how do you think AI could most positively impact mines already in production?

AI: AI has the potential to positively impact mines that are already in production in a number of ways. Some examples include:

  1. Predictive maintenance: AI-powered systems can analyze sensor data from equipment and predict when maintenance is needed, reducing downtime and increasing efficiency.
  2. Optimizing production: AI can be used to optimize the production process, for example by adjusting the feed rate of ore to the mill, to increase production and decrease costs.
  3. Safety: AI-powered systems can monitor the mining environment for potential safety hazards, such as gas leaks or rockfalls, and alert workers in real-time, improving safety in mines.
  4. Autonomous vehicles: Self-driving vehicles can be used in mining operations to move ore, waste and equipment around the mine site, reducing the need for human workers to perform these tasks.
  5. Mineral processing: AI-powered systems can be used to optimize the mineral processing operations, for example by controlling the flow of material, adjusting the speed of conveyors, and adjusting the feed rate to the flotation cells, to improve the recovery of minerals and reduce costs.
  6. Environmental monitoring: AI-powered systems can be used to monitor the environment around the mine, for example by monitoring water quality and air quality, to ensure that the mine is operating in compliance with regulations and to minimize the impact on the environment.
  7. Inventory management: AI-powered systems can be used to manage inventory, for example by keeping track of the amount of ore in the stockpile, to optimize the loading and hauling of ore, and to reduce costs.

In summary, AI has the potential to positively impact mines that are already in production by increasing efficiency, improving safety, reducing costs and environmental impact, and optimizing production. It’s important to note that AI is not a silver bullet, and it should be used in conjunction with other technologies and human expertise, to achieve the best results.

An image illistrating how AI in Mining can be used for monitoring mine sites.
An AI visualization of how AI can be used in mining to monitor mine sites and enhance safety and efficiency. Image generated by Deep Dream Generator.

Stuart: I think safety and automation are always big topics around mining. I’ve heard about using AI for things like predicting accidents, could this be something that could be used in mining?

AI: Yes, AI can be used to predict accidents in mining. One example is using AI-powered systems to analyze sensor data from equipment, such as vibration data from a conveyor belt, to predict when a failure is likely to occur. This allows maintenance crews to fix the problem before it becomes a safety hazard. Additionally, AI can be used to monitor the mining environment for potential safety hazards, such as gas leaks or rockfalls, and alert workers in real-time, improving safety in mines.

AI can also be used to analyze data from cameras and other sensors, to detect and classify objects in the mine, such as vehicles and people. This can be used to track the location of vehicles and people in the mine, and to detect potential collisions.

AI can also be used to monitor the behavior of workers, for example by analyzing data from wearable devices, such as smart watches, to detect when a worker is tired or stressed, and to alert them to take a break.

Overall, AI can be used in mining to predict accidents and improve safety in a number of ways, by analyzing data from sensors, cameras, and other sources, and by providing real-time alerts to workers and maintenance crews. These technologies can be used to identify and mitigate safety hazards, improve worker safety, and even predict accidents before they happen, which will be a big advantage for the mining industry.

Stuart: This is all very exciting – I feel like many mine sites are already collecting a lot of this information, AI could be the perfect tool to tie all this together and serve as a powerful heads-up system.

AI: Yes, that’s right. Many mines are already collecting a lot of data from sensors and cameras, but the challenge is making sense of all that data and turning it into actionable information. AI can be used to analyze this data in real-time and extract insights that would be difficult or impossible for humans to see. By doing so, it can help improve safety, efficiency, and productivity in the mine.

By predicting equipment failures, for example, AI can help prevent downtime and lost productivity. And by monitoring the environment for safety hazards, it can help prevent accidents and injuries. By detecting and tracking vehicles and people in the mine, it can help prevent collisions and other safety incidents.

Additionally, AI can also be used to optimize the operation of the mine, for example by analyzing data from sensors on vehicles and equipment, to optimize routes and schedules, and by analyzing data from cameras and other sensors, to optimize the loading and hauling of materials.

Overall, AI has the potential to be a powerful tool for mining companies, providing real-time insights that can improve safety, efficiency, and productivity in the mine.

Stuart: Fantastic. This is a lot of great information and its clear that AI is going to have a huge impact on mining from exploration through operations and probably even during reclamation and monitoring to some extent.

AI: Yes, that’s correct. AI has the potential to revolutionize the mining industry by providing new ways to find and extract minerals, improve safety, efficiency and productivity. Additionally, AI can also be used for reclamation and monitoring after the mine is closed. For example, AI can be used to analyze aerial and satellite images to monitor the progress of reclamation and restoration efforts, and to detect and predict environmental impacts.

AI can also be used to monitor the long-term stability of tailings dams, waste rock piles, and other mining infrastructure. It can analyze data from sensors and cameras to detect signs of instability or failure, and provide early warning of potential hazards.

AI can be a valuable tool for mining companies throughout the entire mining life cycle, from exploration to operation, reclamation, and monitoring.

Stuart: Incredible, thanks for your time!

AI: You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.