“The integration of digital and physical systems will keep advancing, bringing them closer together. Heavy industries, mining, and minerals are already experiencing benefits from exponential technologies like AI,” Dr Saptarshi Das

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AL Circle
Edited By
Debanjali Sengupta

Dr Saptarshi Das is a firm believer that sustainability and profitability can be achieved simultaneously. To this end, he has focused his activities and investments on clean technology and affordable education. He heads the global Decision Science division of the energy major Shell. He has extensive knowledge of the technology and economics of energy systems, ranging from the molecular to the geopolitical level. Earlier in his career, he worked with Morgan Stanley and Siemens.

Saptarshi has a strong technical background. He holds a Master's degree in Applied Statistics and Informatics from IIT Bombay and earned his PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Vienna. He has numerous patents and publications in top journals to his credit.

AL Circle: We are witnessing the increasingly important role played by Data Science and Exponential Tech in the Metal & Mining World as well as the 'traditional' of 'physical' industries. Can you please share your thoughts?


Dr Saptarshi: The integration of digital and physical systems will keep advancing, bringing them closer together. Heavy industries, mining, and minerals are already experiencing benefits from exponential technologies like AI. These advancements are being utilised in areas such as the exploration of resources, optimisation of production processes, supply chain management, safety, sustainability, and marketing. This is only the beginning, with more advancement to come, leading to new business models.

In the future, we will have digital twins of all physical systems, including resources, production processes, and supply chains. The true advantage of this will be the ability to run simulations using the digital twin, testing out millions of scenarios, and choosing the optimal decision before executing it in reality.

I would like to see improvements in safety by reducing human errors, and I believe emerging technologies, like GenAI, IoT, will contribute immensely in driving the safety performance of heavy industries like mining, construction, O&G.

AL Circle: What are the major factors contributing to the digital transformation of these industries?

Dr Saptarshi: It is important not to pursue digital transformation simply because others are doing it. To maximise the benefits of digital transformation, one needs to understand the "why". You can either address an existing problem or leverage digital transformation to drive new business models. Whatever approach you take, the goal should be bringing tangible value by improving unit economics, driving sustainability or enhancing safety performance.

A range of emerging digital solutions, including IoT, robotics, digital twins and AI, will provide the "how" once the "why" is clearly established.

To ensure the success of a digital transformation effort, it is imperative to focus on generating value. However, two foundational steps are necessary for the effort to be sustainable in the long run. The first step is to establish a strong data foundation, as any solutions developed will not be feasible beyond the proof-of-concept stage without it. The second step is to foster a culture that is open to and supportive of emerging digital solutions.

AL Circle: How technology & data science can address some of the core challenges faced by the Energy or Metal & Mining industry - sustainability, higher resource utilisation, improving supply chain efficacy, etc.?

Dr Saptarshi: I have found it very helpful to categorise emerging digital technologies into three distinct superpowers:

  1. The ability to collect, transfer, and store data.
  2. The ability to identify patterns within the data and represent them in models.
  3. The ability to use these models and business knowledge to simulate scenarios and make optimized decisions.

The ultimate aim of these technologies is to aid in better business decision-making, whether it involves capital investment, production efficiency, or targeting the right customers.

Let's begin by discussing data collection and storage. IoT systems facilitate the collection of data from production units, while 5G networks enable the routing of data to cloud infrastructure for further analysis. Remote sensing data obtained from satellite or drone surveys is another example of primary data that can be used in various applications, such as site selection and environmental monitoring.

Mining pattern from the data is the next superpower of emerging digital technologies. Modern technologies like AI and data-driven models are proving to be powerful tools in discovering hidden patterns and distributions within data. These models are capable of providing valuable insights that can help identify inefficiencies in production processes, such as energy waste or the remaining lifespan of equipment.

The last superpower is the capability of nearly time traveling. It is accomplished by using AI techniques that can simulate various scenarios in uncertain futures while playing out intricate interactions. These techniques help in making optimal and strong decisions by selecting the most favourable outcome that balances both risk and return.

AL Circle: The whole world is talking about AI & GenAIs. Can you please share some use cases of such technologies in the Energy or Metal & Mining industry?

Dr Saptarshi: Let me share two examples, one already being used in the industry and another that may seem a bit far-fetched.

Gaining knowledge from internal and external sources can help reduce information asymmetry, leading to better communication with counterparties and ultimately improving business outcomes. However, this information is often scattered across multiple sources in different formats, making it time-consuming to piece together. With GenAI, concise insights can be obtained exactly when needed.

Industries such as energy, metal, mining, and other heavy industries prioritise the safety of their people. With GenAI's ability to generate upcoming frames from a video, detecting safety incidents in advance becomes possible, which allows for preventive measures to be taken. While this may seem like a far-fetched application, the rate at which GenAI is developing shows promising potential for the future.

AL Circle: Do you think that the penetration of the exponential technologies in the Energy and Metal & Mining will increase in the years to come? Why do you think so?

Dr Saptarshi: Undoubtedly, it will increase; here are the following three reasons.

First, visible benefits are leading to further investments in exponential technologies. Quantified benefits are encouraging promoters across industries to reap the benefit of emerging digital technologies like AI and IoT.

The barrier to using and deploying emerging digital technologies is rapidly diminishing. What used to take several months for a digital project can now be accomplished in a few days. For instance, implementing a Chabot for customer interaction or connecting a production unit with IoT are now done in days.

Thirdly, an increasing number of people are acquiring new skills in AI and other emerging digital technologies. This emerging talent base will reduce concerns about the availability of a skilled workforce, and their acceptance of new digital technology is much higher.

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