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Cognitive computing to boost mining sector

In this period of economic uncertainty, cognitive computing affords the mining industry an opportunity to make informed decisions.

This is according to Gary Ralph, mining lead at IBM global business services SA, who notes cognitive computing is the future of mining.

Accenture defines cognitive computing as IT systems that can sense, comprehend and act, adding it might be the most disruptive technology on the horizon.

The technology is driven by data but to work optimally data needs to be continuously captured, stored, and transferred before the intelligence can be added, says Ralph.

Though cognitive computing includes some elements of the academic discipline of artificial intelligence, it's a broader idea, he adds.

"Rather than producing machines that think for people, cognitive computing is all about augmenting human intelligence – helping us think better."

Business intelligence systems based on cognitive computing technology have the potential to boost mining decision-makers' reasoning capabilities and empower them to make better informed real-time decisions, says Ralph.

For the decision-makers, cognitive computing is similar to having the most knowledgeable mining engineer, market analyst and financial guru on a mobile device, adds Ralph.

This is because cognitive computing has the computer's ability to ingest not only structured but also unstructured data, formulate hypotheses, make decisions for itself based upon its own reasoning and make recommendations, he explains.

According to IDC Energy Insights, mining companies are looking to technology for drastic operational changes.

Innovation accelerators like robotics, the Internet of things, and cognitive computing are fundamentally shifting what it means to operate a mine, as mining companies make the interconnection between the virtual and the physical, it adds.

Ralph says mechanised mines have been the first to use cognitive computing. "This is because of the almost immediate benefit that will be gained from moving their maintenance philosophy from one of time-based to one of fully predictive."

What cognitive computing does in mining is enable the removal of people from high risk areas like autonomous drilling, which requires a much higher level of skills to manufacture and maintain, says Ralph.

He believes cognitive computing will be applied in many levels within a mining organisation.

It will be used in the boardroom to aid strategic decisions, in automated and autonomous mining methods, notes Ralph.

It will help improve safety and certainly in optimising equipment maintenance schedules, enhancing production cycles and identifying operator-specific training needs – all leading to improved cost and efficiencies, he adds.

Cognitive computing will give insights into the future landscape of the industry, assist managers on the ground to solve problems, and improve efficiencies and prevent, or at least reduce, the impact of incidents, concludes Ralph.

Meanwhile, Accenture says cognitive computing technologies and solutions face several obstacles.

As with any new technology promising to change the world, business leaders are stuck trying to separate hype from real potential, it notes.

Added to this scepticism is apprehension about the social and economic implications of these technologies, says Accenture.


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