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Robotics AI Technology

Mines May Eliminate More Than Half Their Human Workers Within 10 Years (computerworld.com) 231

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes ComputerWorld: In the next decade, the mining industry may lose more than half of its jobs to automation, according to a new report... This industry is adopting self-driving trucks, automated loaders and automated drilling and tunnel-boring systems. It is also testing fully autonomous long-distance trains, which carry materials from the mine to a port...

A broader question is whether mining is a bellwether for other industries. There's no clear answer, but what Aaron Cosbey, a development economist and a report author, can say is this: "Where you can find robotic replacements for human labor you tend to do it." Cosbey estimates that automation will replace 40% to 80% of the workers at a mine...

Driverless technology can increase output up to 20%, while decreasing fuel consumption up to 15%, according to the article. "This will increase demand for people with IT skills who can set up and operate the automation systems -- but at far smaller numbers than the people automation displaces."
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Mines May Eliminate More Than Half Their Human Workers Within 10 Years

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  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday October 30, 2016 @10:39AM (#53178877) Homepage Journal

    A broader question is whether mining is a bellwether for other industries.

    Yes, it is, but we talk about that all the time and it's boring. Let's mine this topic for some other nuggets of value. Ore do you really want to take this opportunity for granite? Let's not cave in to the pressure to rehash that argument, and start with a clean slate. A boulder question would be weather the technology will translate to outer space. That other kind of thread hits rock bottom in a hurry.

    Schist, I'm out of gneiss rock puns.

    • you rock.
    • I can't fault your logic.

      [I've been sitting here trying to come up with a pun for "bituminous" and I just cannot do it because I'm just too sedintary].

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I might be able to help you with that pun if I could just bituminous of your time.

        • I've been sitting here trying to come up with a pun for "bituminous" and I just cannot do it because I'm just too sedintary.

          I might be able to help you with that pun if I could just bituminous of your time.

          Well played, sir.

          My dear GP, you must concede an ignious defeat. ;-P

    • Schist, I'm out of gneiss rock puns.

      Time to grab the gabbro, my friend!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 30, 2016 @10:43AM (#53178887)

    ... it's not going to be a good day for people. Less safety and environmental requirements for non-people, and if they get crushed/buried there's no real negative press. Designed correctly, they can be rebuilt/repaired/dusted off and the work continued.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @10:50AM (#53178929) Homepage Journal

      On this other hand, at least in this situation, the only words I can think of are "Good. It's about time."

      Mining is dangerous work; mines collapse, get filled with dangerous gasses that kill people, and so on. Getting people out of those environments is a great step towards making the world a safer place. I'd imagine their pay will also go down, given that they were getting paid a premium because the job they were doing was dangerous, but that reduction in workers and pay is pretty much unavoidable. The only alternative would be to continue putting people in harm's way unnecessarily, which IMO would be irresponsible once alternatives exist.

      • Yes their pay is going down. To $0. In these systems one person oversees multiple vehicles so they can get rid of many people. And of course that's not saying the drivers are able to transfer over to operating the remote controlled vehicles so it's possible that all of the drivers are let go and new people are brought in.

        • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @02:50PM (#53179967)

          Yes their pay is going down. To $0. In these systems one person oversees multiple vehicles so they can get rid of many people. And of course that's not saying the drivers are able to transfer over to operating the remote controlled vehicles so it's possible that all of the drivers are let go and new people are brought in.

          Over time, all jobs are made obsolete. The longshoreman career was made obsolete because of automation. The people who made vacuum tubes we made mostly redundant becauseof the transistor. The railroad workers faced a big reduction when we switched from steam locos to diesel - steam locomotives are tremendous powerful bits of technology, but are filthy and take insane levels of maintenance.

          Two tractor steam plowing has come and gone, nothing stays the same.

          Even over my career, instead of complaining about my jerb becoming obsolete, I adapted, learned new things, and didn't insist that what I originally did would continue forever. Where do we say - enough? No more technology, no more progress?

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Physical labor was optimized, not automated. The former has happened. The latter has never happened. The two are mistakenly equated so much it's laughable.

            All you really said is the "I've got mine screw you" slogan, oblivious to how close you are to the edge.

            Fortunately "close" is relative; yes, we're inches away, your job is "exclusive" by the skin of its teeth, but it'll take generations to properly tick the last inch.

            Yes, We'll be fine. You'll die thinking you're well off, even your kids probabl
            • Physical labor was optimized, not automated. The former has happened. The latter has never happened. The two are mistakenly equated so much it's laughable.

              I have no idea what you are trying to say. If you are trying to say that labor has been optimized and ther ehas never been a fundamental change in the labor, that's simply wrong. Here is a Ford plan in the 1930's http://theoldmotor.com/?p=1546... [theoldmotor.com]

              Here is a modern assembly line https://telecotowalk.wordpress... [wordpress.com]

              We can play where's Waldo with the people - I count two.

              All you really said is the "I've got mine screw you" slogan, oblivious to how close you are to the edge.

              That's pretty cryptic. I adapted, and thrived. What I was educated to do I only did a few times in my career. I went back to further my edu

          • There is a problem with your logic and it is thus....what are you gonna do with all those billions you no longer need? they aren't gonna quietly go commit suicide so you can live your fat spoiled life ya know. The vast majority of the population cannot be trained to be rocket scientists and with all these technologies frankly we wouldn't need them if they could, so what EXACTLY are you gonna do with them all?

            Because frankly we have already seen what happens when governments don't have a plan to deal with la

    • I read the recent Ars [arstechnica.com] piece on how the pizza biz uses robots to make pizza. At first this was a bit of a surprise/news to me, but then you immediately realize how repetitive the job is. Great use for robots -- faster, less waste, tireless, etc. But also, great job for a human to no longer do -- brain-deadening, low-paying and a RSI maker if ever there was one.
    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Automation has been "cheaper than people" since the invention of the water wheel. That's why people use it. Those people at the time who were grinding grain between two rocks had to find other things to do.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @10:45AM (#53178891)
    buddy of mine (pun not intended) is a part runner who sometimes delivers on the mines and they already control the roads so tightly that automation would be cake. Plus robots work around the clock, don't unionize and you don't go to jail for ignoring their safety.

    The real question is, given that mines are natural resources why the *bleep* do we let so few people claim ownership of them? I suppose we could just tax the end product on the way out too, but we don't even do much of that. We just sorta give away something that's the birthright of all mankind without batting an eye. Not saying we go full on commie ( the wars and violence that come out of that would just shift the ownership ) but there ought to be a better way.
    • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @10:48AM (#53178911)

      The real question is, given that mines are natural resources why the *bleep* do we let so few people claim ownership of them?

      We don't. If they're mining private land, they have to either own it or make a deal with the owner.

      If it's public land, we make the mining company pay a (very, very, very, very, very, very, very cheap) lease to mine the land.

      • at least over here in the States is that they exist to shield the company from property taxes and liabilities involved with owning the land. The leases are a fraction of those costs. In America we have a thing called "Trusts" where land is held "In Trust". What it really means is the gov't is holding onto the land for a wealthy land owner until it's worth owning (usually if they want to build houses on it). That way no property taxes.
    • that's the birthright of all mankind

      Just because something exists doesn't mean it's a birthright for everyone.

      Just because something is a resource doesn't mean anyone is able to use it.

      The few control it because that's what they are good at. Finding something is somewhat trivial compared to making use of it.

  • "and can monitor itself and signal emerging problems".....and what else?
    • by haemish ( 28576 )

      People have been building such systems for quite a while: long-duration robust robots that have to survive in hostile situations without continuous human assistance. Just look at what Liquid Robotics builds.

  • ... between John Henry and the AI steam hammer.

    • Nice reference. Except... doesn't John Henry die in the end? I mean... Human strength of spirit won out in the end, when presented with a singularly strong figure of indomitable strength. But ultimately, in that story, we the people, sacrificed that person to win one battle against "the system" or "the machine" and gain the people . A battle which didn't stop the progression of mechanized advancement.

      But then again, perhaps that story is apt. As many strong spirited and vocal individuals will rise up agains

  • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @10:57AM (#53178947)

    but what Aaron Cosbey, a development economist and a report author, can say is this: "Where you can find robotic replacements for human labor you tend to do it." Cosbey estimates that automation will replace 40% to 80% of the workers at a mine...

    You do it when government imposes massive mandatory benefits on employers and raises the cost of labor. That is, the primary benefit of robots is that they don't unionize, don't get minimum wage, don't need health insurance, don't need retirement plans, don't need worker's comp, and won't sue over discrimination or injuries.

    Of course, I don't think that's a bad thing either in this case. Robots replacing people in dangerous, boring, repetitive jobs is a good thing for everybody.

    • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @11:30AM (#53179075)
      Are you serious? Mining is and always has been the POSTER CHILD for worker exploitation. Your notion that the government is somehow trampling on the poor put-upon mine owners is laughable on its face. Are you choosing to forget that hundreds of workers were killed (less than 100 years ago) by company goons for trying to unionize? Are you choosing to forget the thousands of miners who have died due to the incredibly lax and callous safety practices of mine owners, both from cave-ins and from firedamp?
      • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @12:58PM (#53179427)

        Regardless of the humanitarian merits of high wages, good benefits, and better safety regulations (which I'd hope everyone agrees is a good thing), the simple fact is that those all increase the cost of labor, which in turn provides a greater incentive to automate production as much as possible, reducing production costs.

        Automation of labor-intensive tasks is a difficult thing. A high degree of automation tends to benefit the economy as a whole by producing more consumer goods for less cost, increasing the purchasing power of the common citizen. Unfortunately, it also has an immediate detrimental effect on the directly affected workers. I think this is why most people agree that it's critical to provide a safety net with unemployment and retraining, to help minimize the human impact of disruptive change like this.

        For the most part, I think societies have been reasonably adept at finding other employment for workers as old industries scale down and other industries ramp up or spring into existence. For instance, my job (a videogame programmer) simply didn't exist a generation ago, and is largely possible because many people now have a bit of extra money to spend on a PC, videogame console, and the occasional $60 videogame. We just have to hope that trend continues - that these sort of advancements and transitions occur, but not so fast as to be too disruptive to society as a whole.

        • I would be willing to bet serious money that as unionized miners go away and are replaced by many many fewer non-union robot repair guys that mine safety precautions go way down and safety related deaths (percentage-wise) go way up.

          Yes, I'll concede your point that operating a worker-safe mine is more expensive than running a "Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing." operation.
        • by davidwr ( 791652 )

          For instance, my job (a videogame programmer) simply didn't exist a generation ago,

          And a generation or two from now the bulk of the "programming" will be done by a computer, and the only human part of making a video game will be design and high-level programming (what we call architecture or high-level design today) and some artwork.

          In other words, just as the late-1970s/early-1980s video-game programmer writing in assembly language would barely recognize the day-to-day work done by people who make today's big-hit video games, today's programmers will barely recognize what passes for "pro

      • Mining is and always has been the POSTER CHILD for worker exploitation

        Hence my comment: I don't think [government regulations destroying these jobs] is a bad thing either in this case

        Are you serious?

        Yes, I am. I'm also serious about this: you are an illiterate bigot and partisan.

      • Are you serious? Mining is and always has been the POSTER CHILD for worker exploitation.

        Yes, he is seriously saying that mine owners don't give a crap about their workers' well-being or safety, and are only replacing them with robots to save money, largely because the government doesn't let them treat humans as disposable like in the old days while robots got better/cheaper.

    • Personally, I consider this unalloyed good news. We really don't need people dying in mining accidents/cave-ins, etc. One more nasty way to die removed from the world....
  • No more mining jobs means less voters having a stake in the mining industry, much of which is the mining of coal. Less mining jobs also means less rural mining boom towns which inevitably turn into ghost towns.

    • No more mining jobs means less voters having a stake in the mining industry, much of which is the mining of coal. Less mining jobs also means less rural mining boom towns which inevitably turn into ghost towns.

      That implies the people who get their power from coal-based plants can't make the connection between coal and inexpensive electricity. People rather quickly notice when their monthly bills rise to unaffordable levels.

      • Coal isn't much cheaper than renewable energy and will soon be more expensive, especially if pollution stops being an externality. Customers may be willing to pay more for a cleaner energy source anyway if there aren't many jobs on the line...especially those living downwind of coal power plants.

        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          Uh it isn't? Green energy pays between 0.43-0.92kWh in most places due to FIT programs. It's around 0.04-0.08kWh for coal which is still 0.01-0.03kWh more expensive then nuclear and roughly double the cost of hydro-electric. Looking at Ontario, yes you notice very quickly when your price of electricity goes from 0.07kWh@peak to 0.17kWh@peak in under 8 years. If you want to see the train wreck in motion of this happening, you can look at Alberta.

  • Automated equipment is a fixed and predictable cost. It does require more technical people that can operate and fix them in the field. It also means less resources and planning for safety are needed for human personal with fewer people hurt in the field. Less training is needed so increased predictable production can be seen shortly after expenditure for automated machinery.

    Overall this means mining operations can invest more predictably and scale linearly. So mines can be larger and with almost as many w

  • and a few IT jobs replace 'em (probably H1-Bs, since this work is so new it's easy to say there'd be no local talent that qualifies). Can I has basic income yet?
    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Can I has basic income yet?

      It's going to have to happen soon. Last report by our provincial, gave that between 25-40% of the current jobs going bye-bye, by 2025. They're wanting to automate trucking, cabs, various deliveries and so on. If that happens, at least around here you're looking at 50% of the people being unemployed. I sure hope these businesses enjoy their 40-60% tax, because that's the only way stuff like mincome/basic income is going to happen and they're the cause of it.

      • by vlad30 ( 44644 )
        The bigger concern is that it is the lower end jobs cab drivers /labourers etc that are going to be replaced at this end the workers are generally not capable of retraining to more complex jobs addionally this is where people who were desperate for work would go during tough times I knew a lot of software developers driving cabs now what are they going to do when times get tough
  • Something that's happening might happen more in the long term. If it does then it might mean something.

    Don't you people ever get tired of worrying about stuff that might someday happen, maybe in 10 or 20 years? Don't you have problems now, or something next month or next year to worry about instead?

    • This is already happening today. Australia is a leader in this technology. Some of the mines there have their trucks that carry the ore autonomous with the operators at a major city instead of at the mine site. In Canada some of the companies mining the tar sands are looking at this or implementing this.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @11:06AM (#53178975)
    we just finished prosecuting a mine exec for ignoring safety. It was a big deal because he'll do some jail time, which has almost never happened. The saddest thing is that somewhere is somebody who'll argue we shouldn't have prosecuted that guy because this is what will happen. E.g. it's better to have a job you get killed at than no job at all. Even when there's no good reason for that job to exist anymore. People just can't get over the idea that if you don't work you don't eat.
    • by tchdab1 ( 164848 )

      If we automate ourselves to the point of having all this stuff around us without most of the work we've needed to get it, our task will then be how to distribute it in new ways - without work's paycheck to allocate using it all.

      • I've got a buddy who's in about the lowest income position you can be and when faced with the prospect that we might give Fast Food workers "free" money when we don't need them to work anymore (because robots took their jerbs) he was genuinely uncomfortable. He might even agree if you press him on it but when he gets to the polls that's not how his 'gut' will tell him to vote.

        Giving people who don't work money just plain _feels_ bad. Entitlement is a bad word around here too. Think about how much of a b
    • we just finished prosecuting a mine exec for ignoring safety. It was a big deal because he'll do some jail time, which has almost never happened. The saddest thing is that somewhere is somebody who'll argue we shouldn't have prosecuted that guy because this is what will happen. E.g. it's better to have a job you get killed at than no job at all. Even when there's no good reason for that job to exist anymore. People just can't get over the idea that if you don't work you don't eat.

      Actually, the saddest thing is that when they do switch to robots, somebody criminally neglects mine safety and 100 million dollars worth of robots get crushed the consequences for the executives in question will be swifter and harsher than if they'd caused thousands of human workers to die a slow and agonising death from some respiratory disease or toxic poisoning of some kind in which case the consequences would have been an all expenses paid legal defence and golden parachute. As for the workers, I think

      • it's almost all middle class whites without college educations. They're generally doing well for themselves and when asked why Trump they say it's for the country and their children. 538's got a decent article on Trump Supporter demographics. They key to Trump supporters is they _vote_. The urban poor don't (it's debatable if it's laziness or voter suppression).
      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        28 miners died in the US last year. 11 of those in coal mines. A dangerous business but not quite as bad as you make it out to be.

  • by hey! ( 33014 )

    It depends on (a) how much cheaper it is to mine stuff and (b) the price elasticity of demand.

    For example, suppose the price of coal drops so much that people use twice as much of it. You'll end up with exactly the same number of people working at coal mines. In that case the impact would be to stymie any attempts to reduce pollution by burning less coal.

    On the other hand, suppose coal demand is inelastic; then you'll have half the number of workers but the companies in the business are more profitable; yo

  • What about scanning the tracks and moving manual switches? also unions and other safety issues? Look at how long it's taking to get PTC to be installed so autonomous long-distance trains make take a long time for systems to even be installed.

  • still need local NON IT Repair & Maintenance techs on site to keep the systems running + IT workers running the system with maybe even local IT tech to keep the networking parts running.

  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @11:21AM (#53179045)
    Isn't it universally acknowledged that mining is dirty, dangerous, difficult, and a threat to worker's health? I'd think eliminating as many mining jobs as possible would be seen as a good thing. Same for all the other industries where the work itself is said to be bad for workers: fishing (dangerous), truck driving (dangerous, deleterious to health), fast food (poorly compensated, demeaning, dead end), etc.
    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      There are lots of dangerous and dirty jobs Generally these jobs are good money for people who otherwise would have nothing. Despite the slander that gets heaped on mining companies they do spend a lot of money on safety as these jobs are in fact much safer today than they were decades ago. 11 coal miners died in the US last year which is a record low. The companies are looking at automation because they can eliminate a lot of labor costs which will increase their profits. This is easily understandable

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Sitting at home collecting a benefit check, with no hope for ever having anything better, is also bad for people.

  • Finally! All these safety regulations will be enforced because mining Co's won't want to damage their precious intelligent machines.

  • After having failed to parse "Mines May Eliminate More Than Half Their Human Workers Within 10 Years" as "Land Mines May Eliminate More Than Half Their Human Workers...," I was relieved - after reading TFS - to discover that nobody was actually going to be killed by these nefarious mines!

  • by Chris Katko ( 2923353 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @11:51AM (#53179187)
    When I read the title I first thought mines as in land mines, and then I thought, "Yeah... that's kind of the point..."
  • This is awesome. This is what we want.
    Machines doing all the dirty, unhealthy, badly paid and dangerous work.
    Nice to hear we're finally moving along another few steps in this regard.

    Although I have to admit this is not really that much of a surprise. This has been going on since the dawn of industrial mining. Back in 18 hundred something it was completely normal for 10-year olds working 16 hours a day in the mines and dying very early deaths. Specialised machines came in and the children and the slavery wen

    • So what do we do with all the people who don't score high enough to do anything other than mining (basic manual labor)? War? Deport them? Sterilize them? Soylent green?
  • Relieve the nightmarish congestion in (for example) the San Francisco Bay Area by tunnelling new freeways. If Tech can bring the cost of tunnels down far enough, we could really improve cities everywhere.

    • Why build an underground freeway, when an underground subway tunnel of the same size can carry approximately 10 times as many people? (1000 people per subway train, 30 trains per hour, vs 2000 cars per hour in a lane of freeway)

  • by n3r0.m4dski11z ( 447312 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @12:09PM (#53179249) Homepage Journal

    "Mines May Eliminate More Than Half The Human Workers"

    If its mines vs humans now, I am ready. I have been training for years using the tactical simulator codenamed "minesweeper.exe", waiting for a day like this to arrive.

  • by sandbagger ( 654585 ) on Sunday October 30, 2016 @12:13PM (#53179263)

    The biggest change to labour -- probably -- has been the early 20th century creation of the tractor and its attendant grain handling machines to agriculture. It wiped out the largest employee type in the world - agricultural labour. Of course there are plenty of people picking produce today but it's a fraction of the population compared to our grandparents' era.

    That mines have become automated with pneumatic diggers happened in a generation ago and those of us who are old enough to remember the miner's strikes of the 1970s and 1980s watched entire communities vanish from the map. (Watch the film Brassed Off as an example with the amazing Pete Posthewait.) That digitization and robotics have now matured enough to finish the job is really an end game, not anything new.

    I was up north when GPSs came in and guides were an ancient and honoured profession that got wiped out in ten years at the lumber camps.

  • So when we replace notoriously dangerous, low-paying and skilled jobs with robots that can only kill themselves and nobody else, we then need to crow about how many jobs have been lost?

    It's like the UK miner's strikes all over again. We can't sell the shit once we pull it out of the ground without lowering costs (which means lower wages for those people or more dangerous working conditions for the unscrupulous), but we have to preserve those jobs artificially so people have something to do during the day?

    N

  • Duh, I always upgrade my miners the first chance I get. A dude with a pickaxe can't mine the gold fast enough for me.
  • Mining has always been one of the most dangerous jobs that humans have ever had, and traditionally one of the most disproportionately low-paying compared to how dangerous it is. Of all the applications for so-called 'AI' (still bugs me how that term is misused, by the way), so-called 'self-driving' technolgy, and automation technology that put human workers out of jobs, this is one that I definitely approve of, so that humans don't have to die horribly or be horribly injured in mining accidents. Of course i
  • This has been going on for a while. Rock face miners were replaced with mechanical excavators 20-30 years ago. Said excavators became remote controlled 15-20 years ago. They became semi-independent 10-15 years ago. Dirt haulers in open pit mines became self-driven about 10 years ago.

    Mining is an ideal case for robot substitution. Robots do best in jobs that are not suitable for humans, either too dangerous, too heavy, too small or too repetitive.

  • Tax the robots and hook me up with universal basic income instead.

    • Besides money from taxation, I don't mind owning shares and doing stuff like that. I can use the dividends to pay for luxuries. Universal basic income for the necessities.

  • I think every human that looses their job to a robot must continue to be paid full wages and benefits untill or forever. our society depends on people having money that means jobs, skilled jobs, and non skilled jobs. If this continues i see a huge war comming between the rich and the not rich and the poor its going to happen just wonder if i will get to see it. thier are only so many Mcdonalds jobs out thier and seems they want to replace the human their as well.
  • Every time I turn on the radio I hear about all of these illegal unaccompanied miners crossing the border. We don't have enough jobs for you!

    Also these lighthouse workers, how many lighthouses can there possibly be that need workers?!

  • Agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing, etc.

    This trend has occurred for literally centuries. Each new wave of technological innovation eliminates jobs that escaped the previous wave. And I think this is a Good Thing for humanity in aggregate, even if it causes local disruption and job loss.

    I don't think it's a coincidence that Trump has strong support in regions that engage in resource cultivation and extraction. Even if the citizens of these states are economically marginalized, politically they exercise d

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