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Mining has evolved from an early era of pick and shovel where there was little true regard for safety and the environment. The industry has come a long way to becoming a part of a caring society. Ultimately mining has to become as safe as your living room and leave the environment as pristine as it was before it arrived.
This evolution will include taking the operator away from the dangers of the critical work face. In its place mining offers technology and this will translate to good paying highly skilled jobs. It’s a great trade-off for the labour intensive, difficult and unsafe period of times long past.

Thanks for bringing up this topic! Automation based on the digital transformation of production and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to guide exploration and exploitation of natural resources is a big challenge to governments, private sector and civil society alike. Robotic miners / diggers and driverless trucks are only a few of the more visible options that many mining companies may adopt in the near future. Decisions to conduct mineral resource exploration and exploitation will depend more and more on economic forecasts based on AI using big data and deep learning. Digital transformation may disrupt production as well as capital and labor markets worldwide, not only in mining, and not only to the benefit of local populations. The uncertainty of mining outcomes will increase. The risk of local and global polarisation of human development outcomes is also great, driven by increasing gaps between global value chains and global wealth chains. Few governments can realistically expect to meet these challenges alone. But how many of them have even started to address these issues with local non-state actors and international partners? I would like to hear of some examples, whether they are best or worst practices.

A timely and needed note of caution here, given all the buzz around automation and new technologies in mining. The more advanced the technologies get that are used in mining, the greater the challenge will be for education systems in low-income countries to provide the skills required to utilize them. Improving safety is paramount, but the mining sector cannot expect to open operations in developing countries using mostly expatriate workers and imported goods and services, and expect that host country citizens and governments will be welcoming. 

The training gap is certainly going to become a bigger problem with the development of machine learning, and digitization in general, however the whole world is also dealing with these technology changes. Mining will be pulled along and adding value along the way.

It is a part of the 4th industrial revolution, and it is not just mining that is being affected by automation. Having worked in operations and planning, I am sure it will greatly improve efficiency, on which the mining industry has been lagging since the demand boom in 2000s, productivity, and most importantly safety. However, employment related challenges needs to be carefully managed when introducing mining automation.