The “low hanging fruit” of gold deposits are long gone. The California gold rush peaked in 1849, and all easy-access gold in the United States has since been mined. Today there are still companies that mine for ore and precious minerals, but the work is more complex and dangerous. To minimize obstacles, mining companies are seeking help from Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.

As reported in 2018, Canada is the fifth largest producer of gold in the world. There is still a great deal of undeveloped land in Canada, and in order to continue mining gold in ways that are safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and profitable, many companies have implemented AI programs and have resources working on further technology improvements.

Here are a few stories from top Canadian companies that are embracing AI to redefine the gold mining industry.

Using IBM’s Watson, Goldcorp is providing efficiencies that allow companies to focus on the safety of workers and the environment. Goldcorp already works with IBM to collect data, so the next goal was to run geological analyses from the information they already have. Watson can produce patterns and insights from 2D and 3D drill data with which geologists can make informed and timely decisions. Read more about Goldcorp and Watson here.

John Thornton, the chairman of Barrick Gold Corp. made a bold prediction late last year: AI and other digital tools are making Barrick a “technology company that just happened to be in mining.” To promote technology innovation in mining, last year Barrick held BattleBorn, a hackathon for the mining industry that was held in Las Vegas. Back in their Toronto office, project managers are working on initiatives that explore and collect data with driverless trucks and robots and then use machine-learning technology to make sense of the findings.

Goldspot Discoveries Inc. saw that huge amounts of data collected during drilling expeditions (200 megabytes of data for a single drill hole) was going to waste for an industry where success has become increasingly difficult. This tech company has developed an AI solution for mineral exploration companies that puts these vast amounts of data to a profitable use. Goldspot data intelligence anticipates gold deposits using geological, mineral, and topological data.

The public becomes aware of the risk miners face on the job when we read or hear about horrific accidents. Certainly, there are dangerous circumstances that miners face daily. AI is preventing accidents and alerting workers to dangerous situations by reporting equipment problems, air quality and other potential hazards. Sensors collect data that in turn monitors all mining operations for overall safety efficiencies.

In this complex industry, the shift to technology is slow, but even small changes have a huge impact. McKinsey & Co. predicts that these and other AI initiatives can result in efficiency gains of $373 billion by 2025.