The machines are coming!

Automation in mining has been very slow to catch on. The reason is that much of the present batch of automated machines follow a sequence rather than think for themselves. When a sensor detects something out of line, safety protocols intervene and the sequence stops, undermining their cost effectiveness. Mining is a very dynamic environment and little things like rocks on the road present a complex challenge for a pre-programmed machine.

Everything is about to change with the rise of artificial intelligence. If you think this is still a long way away, then have a look around. Learning machines now run parts of our lives. Siri on your iPhone is one of the best examples of AI. She (it) can answer your questions, even the silly ones has developed a sense of humour. Many video games use AI to analyse your movements and make the bad guys respond the way a human would. Some online shopping outlets use AI to learn about you and then display “bargains” that appeal to your personality and shopping preferences. Many news bulletins are now written by computers, particularly weather forecasts and financial reporting. The machines are leaning.

So now that machines can learn, they just need enough information to learn from and eventually they will be able to make decisions better than a human. Siri has the whole internet to learn from, whereas our datasets in mining are not quite there yet, but the proliferation of sensors on mining equipment means that it won’t be long.

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