#MiningIndaba: Mining exec sounds Google, Apple alarm


Cape Town – Technologies companies Google and Apple could be players in the mining industry in the future, according to an industry expert.

At a panel discussion on the future of mining, at the 2018 African Mining Indaba on Wednesday, chief innovation officer of mining company Barrick, Michelle Ash, spoke on the need for mining companies to innovate or risk closing down.

“There is a risk of staying where we are. If we stay where we are, we will not be able to mine anymore. Mining will still continue, but other companies will be mining, like Google or Apple,” she said.

During the discussion Ash explained how everyday-use technology such as smartphones (iPhones) or tablets (iPads) were being incorporated at Barrick to improve efficiencies. Having distributed iPads to employees underground, they could “facetime” their supervisors and solve problems within minutes.

At first supervisors were concerned that this would make part of their role redundant, as most of them were used to spending hours driving around the mines, solving problems and even disseminating information, she explained. However, this freed up supervisors to explore new ways of adding value in their operations, she said.

Ash said when it comes to incorporating technology it is also important to rethink the role of people. She added that innovation had the benefit of moving people away from the coalface and allowing them to work remotely, in office spaces in a much safer environment.


Ash also explained that technology should be based on human-centred design to create ease of use, as opposed to having people study complex manuals.

Donovan Waller, group head of technology at Anglo American shared views on the importance of making technology easy for people to use. For example, a 3-year-old and a 78-year-old could both easily use a tablet, without receiving any real training for it.

“The more sophisticated the technology, the less sophisticated the interface needs to be,” he said. This will address concerns of having to upskill the labour force, he explained.

“The risk is not necessarily that we will need higher skilled workers,” he said. The real risk is if something anyone does becomes repetitive. “Any physical repetitive thing will be automated by a machine. Any kind of repetitive thinking will be automated by artificial intelligence,” said Waller.

Chamber of Mines president Mxolisi Mgojo previously told Fin24 during an interview that technology is required for miners to be globally competitive, and it is becoming riskier to send people underground.

That considered, there also needs to be a consideration of the societal impacts such as job losses. When it comes to dealing with potential job losses, Mgojo said there should be reskilling for people to be able to do jobs they never did before. That in turn will create opportunities.

“Today all of us have cellphones with so many applications we use it for. In as much as these things are new, a lot of business spin-offs have been created as a result of technology,” he said. 

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