Resourcefulness within Canada’s Natural Resource Sectors – The Role of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Thanks to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and the coming of autonomous cars, more of us are interacting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) than ever before. AI is a technology that enables computers to do tasks often done by humans: analyzing and adapting to data and their environment in ways that mimic human cognitive functions such as prediction, learning and problem solving. AIs are able to improve (i.e. make more intelligent decisions) through what is known as Machine Learning (which still requires human intervention) and Deep Learning (wherein computer learning is possible without human involvement). Both types of learning involve self-improvement by an AI using the data it gathers over time.

In Canada, there’s a conversation occurring around the future of AI and what it means for different natural resource sectors. Recently, Stratos had the opportunity to facilitate a session with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to explore the disruptive potential of AI.

A diverse array of workshop participants from a range of natural resource sectors (forest, minerals, energy) agreed that AI has the potential to transform operations. Here are some examples of what companies are already doing:

  • Goldcorp, in partnership with IBM, is using IBM’s ‘Watson’ (a question-answering computer system) to improve minerals exploration success by asking Watson to analyze and interpret vast amounts of relevant data (e.g. geological models, exploration assessment data, drill hole results, etc.)
  • Suncor has committed to phased implementation of 150 autonomous haul trucks over the next six years, in order to enhance safety performance, improve operating efficiency, and lower operating costs.

In addition, workshop participants identified the potential for AI to contribute to improved land reclamation practices, the development of smart grids (which have the ability to better integrate new electricity sources and which automatically re-route power during outages in the energy sector) and the creation of intelligent pipelines, which can detect small leaks and spills early on to minimize environmental impacts and financial losses in the oil and gas industry.

As with all forms of innovation, the incorporation of AI will likely generate ethical and social dilemmas to be resolved. For example, as computers take on the functions previously performed by employees, how does this affect jobs and the distribution of wealth generated by natural resource development? What will this mean for the ability of companies to secure a social license to operate? Another area of concern is data security, which needs to be married with accessibility and with the use of big data as it sets to empower AI. As with all technologies, both government and industry will be in a position to make important decisions around the application and regulation of AI. Involvement of a much more diverse range of actors will be critical to ensuring society can benefit from what AI has to offer without compromising other public policy goals or ethical boundaries.

For more information on Stratos’ work around Artificial Intelligence contact Mike Shoesmith.