Artificial intelligence and natural resources: the perfect match


Stephen Ashley

Stephen Ashley

Digital Transformation Solution Centre Manager

It is now 70 years since Alan Turing published the seminal scientific paper that led to the transformation of society, and the oil industry, in the 21st century. In Computing Machinery and Intelligence, the great mathematician and computer science pioneer asked a single fundamental question: can machines think?

Since then, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved rapidly. If you use Siri, Alexa or Cortana then you are using AI.

Data-heavy industries such as finance, e-commerce and healthcare are in the frontline of this radical change. And our own oil and gas industry is ripe for transformation too. It is already radically altering business models, creating incredible efficiencies and generating investment opportunities.

Research group Gartner predicts that AI spending will be a staggering $5 trillion in 2025. In our own industry AI spending is expected to reach $2.9 Billion by 2022. Those investments are being made in big data technology, machine learning, digitisation and investments in AI-related start-ups.

All change creates disruption. That AI technology can create ethical, technological and legal challenges is not in dispute. There are fears and ethical anxieties around the destruction of jobs. But while technology destroys certain jobs it does not destroy work. 10,000 new jobs, in roles that did not exist before, will be created in the UKCS in the next five years as a result of AI: from data scientists to AI learning specialists.

As an industry we need to understand the risks to make sure we avoid AI challenges like systemic gender and racial discrimination as a result of skewed data sets. We also have to ask tough questions about the role of AI in enabling cyber-attacks and intrusions.

But while the risks are there, the upside is positive and enormous: the AI-enabled, digital oil field is on its way to becoming a reality.

Innovators understand that high-quality data is a key enabler of machine learning and data science. The industry recognises there is some work to do to ensure these high-quality data sets are made available and that we have the appropriate skills to ensure that.

AI has the potential to monitor complex operations, provide advisory services, to run sophisticated simulations, to achieve complex pattern discovery and to perform environmental risk analysis. Applied effectively, it can transform everything from surveying to planning and forecasting; from facility management to safety.

If we get AI right, we can look forward to greatly increased productivity, much safer operations and huge cost savings.

We have a tradition of embracing innovation in the oil and gas industry. Done right, the application of AI can help us meet the new challenges of the zero-carbon era, maximum economic recovery and decommissioning. If AI-accelerated computing become the norm it can helping the oil and gas industry distil the reams of data it collects every second in real time - from pump pressures to flow rates.

Already, major players in our industry are working on exciting AI advances. In March, the OGA launched the UK’s first oil and gas National Data Repository. It has 130 terabytes of geophysical, infrastructure, field and well data – that’s comparable to eight years’ worth of HD movies.

That’s a good start but there is an incredible opportunity for our industry to exploit AI’s potential fully. By collaborating, by working together, we can create data sets that have critical mass and actually allow the machines to learn. If we do this as an industry, we’ll show it’s not just the machines that are smart.