In January 2024, the World Economic Forum published its top 5 risks that would affect the global economy. They were, in order of importance:

  1. Extreme weather events
  2. Artificial intelligence-generated misinformation and disinformation
  3. Societal and/or political polarisation
  4. Cost of living crisis
  5. Cyberattacks

Interestingly, two of the five relate to technology. AI is a mega trend, which will impact all aspects of our lives: how we learn, how we work and how play.

What does it mean for mining? AI is expected to have a transformative impact on the mining industry, offering opportunities to improve efficiency, safety and sustainability. Here are several ways in which AI is anticipated to influence mining:

  • Autonomous vehicles and equipment – AI–powered autonomous vehicles and equipment can enhance safety and productivity in mining operations. These systems use sensors, cameras and machine learning algorithms to navigate and operate without direct human intervention.
  • Predictive maintenance – AI can be employed to predict equipment failures and schedule maintenance proactively. By analysing data from sensors and monitoring equipment conditions, AI algorithms can identify patterns indicative of potential issues, reducing downtime and maintenance costs.
  • Optimisation of operations – AI enables the optimisation of various mining processes, from exploration and drilling to ore processing and transportation. Algorithms can analyse vast datasets, identifying patterns and optimising workflows for increased efficiency and reduced resource wastage.
  • Advanced analytics for exploration – AI algorithms can analyse geological and geophysical data to identify potential mining sites more efficiently. This can streamline the exploration process, leading to better decision-making regarding where to establish mining operations.
  • Environmental monitoring and compliance – AI can contribute to environmental sustainability in mining by monitoring and managing environmental impacts. This includes real-time analysis of data related to air and water quality, helping mining companies adhere to environmental regulations and minimise their ecological footprint.
  • Supply chain optimisation – AI can be utilised to optimise the mining supply chain by predicting demand, managing inventory and enhancing logistics. This can result in more efficient resource allocation, reduced costs and increased overall operational resilience.
  • Safety improvement – AI technologies, such as computer vision and sensors, can enhance safety by monitoring worker activities, detecting potential hazards and providing real-time alerts. This helps prevent accidents and improves overall safety protocols.
  • Remote and automated drilling – AI–powered drilling systems can operate remotely or semi-autonomously, allowing for more precise and efficient drilling. This reduces the risk to human operators and improves drilling accuracy.
  • Simulation and training – AI–driven simulations can be used for training mining personnel in a virtual environment. This provides a safe and controlled setting for learning and practising various mining tasks and emergency scenarios.

Understanding AI and its potential is unlike other disruptive technologies because of the exponential potential that machine learning brings with it. It is simultaneously evolutionary and revolutionary. The integration of AI into mining is an ongoing process that will require strategic, structural and organisational cultural adjustments in mining companies and operations, as its impact will likely continue to evolve as technology advances.

While AI presents numerous opportunities for efficiency and sustainability, it’s crucial for the industry to address challenges related to data privacy, ethical considerations and workforce adaptation to fully harness the potential benefits of AI in mining.

Spencer Eckstein

Director: Ukwazi

Image credit: Freepik

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