Tech a double-edged sword for miners, says Kopernicus CEO


Richard Roberts

Top image :
Abaddon known as a “place of destruction” in Judeo-Christian traditions
‘Always an incentive for entrants to start feeling around the castle walls to find ways in’

What does “Abaddon” look like for miners in future? Irrelevance would be a real pit of despair for today’s leading companies and their investors. Kopernicus CEO Mike Kyriacou says it’s not out of the question.

“Any time you’ve got incumbents and there’s high costs and the potential gain can be enormous, that’s always an incentive for entrants to start feeling around the castle walls to find ways in,” he told InvestMETS.com.

Kyriacou is delivering a keynote talk at an Austmine mining innovation forum in Perth, Western Australia, in early September. He’s tasked with taking the audience on a “journey into the mining landscape of 2035”.

The top tier of the world’s mining companies hasn’t changed much for decades because the biggest companies sit atop the biggest and best mineral deposits.

But technology – and technology companies – are now changing social and commercial landscapes faster than at any time in history. Major tech corporations are in a different league to the world’s top miners. Apple’s market value went past that of the UK FTSE 100 last month.

Kyriacou, who spent a decade in Silicon Valley, California, before returning to Perth three years ago, agrees the chances of disruptors coming out of left field have gone from Buckley’s to high probability.

“Over the next several decades it’s high to inevitable,” he said.

“New materials and new methods of construction are coming, accelerated by AI and eventually, quantum processes.

“Carbon nanotubes are 100-times the tensile strength of steel, and impossible-to-manufacture composite structures can be generated in additive manufacturing that don’t need to be metal and are stronger than alloys.

“In terms of tenements, what the world’s mining giants hold is infinitesimal compared to what’s just 150km away from all of us … Space, the asteroids, the planets, the moons, and beyond into the sprawling Oort Cloud.

“It rains diamonds in the deep liquid layers of Saturn, one of our asteroids has a septillion dollars worth of gold, or enough to give every person on Earth their own $150 billion dollar gold fortune, and they’ve found the corpse of a star orbiting a neutron star made of diamond.

“Disruption is coming.

“Admittedly, those things are vastly further than the edge of space, but use any net present value calculation and it’s worth mining asteroids.

“It probably starts with resourcing Mars.

“There’s no way we are accelerating Earth materials out of our gravitational well and then decelerating to reach another planet. Mars will likely be mainly staffed by robots in the hard environment and resourced by the asteroids. Though to be fair, it’s literally a planet of iron ore so that’s not going to be a problem.

“If we can pull ourselves out of the quagmire and knock-on effects of toxic social media, our future is one of abundance.”

“Mining in 2035: Abaddon or Abundance”, is the title of Kyriacou’s Austmine presentation.

While some mining companies and regions could be left behind in a new era of technological abundance, others can prosper, leveraging reserves of ‘critical’ materials, new wealth, innovation substructure and that incalculable resource, entrepreneurial drive.

In little more than a decade Western Australia’s massive iron ore industry has become a global hotbed for heavy vehicle automation, robotics and associated long-distance control systems. Smarter, cheaper Autonomy 2.0 tech is starting to impact mines in the state, while the push for renewables and mine electrification is gaining momentum.

Some of the world’s most advanced AI-assisted mine finding and engineering tools are being developed and sold out of Perth. Mobile autonomy upstarts such as Silicon Valley-based SafeAI are conflating US tech investment and WA mineral riches.

“I think SafeAI is just the beginning,” Kyriacou says. “They are like the Fairchild Semiconductor of resource tech.

Mike Kyriacou in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, USA

“Perth is really like the on-ramp to the resource industry.

“You’ve got decision makers who are here. There are more people [than elsewhere] who can pilot new technologies and products.

“Generally speaking if you look at systems that can iterate, whatever they may be, they start to accrete. Things that are ‘relatively more’ tend to get relatively more from their surrounds and you get runaway network effects working in both directions. An accidental or random success leads to a person, or company, or region attracting more talent, attention, capital, which increases success in the next iteration, and so on and so on.

“Climbing up once network effects are underway and already iterating is tough, but clearly there’s a way to do this if we focus on that on-ramp: the size of the economic opportunity, the speed and ease of the ramp, the abundance of value-problems to solve, the focus on a strategic niche, and the specialised expertise to bring these elements together.

“The raw ingredients are all here in the lab!

“If there’s a commercially rewarding and efficient on-ramp for resource-tech products with folks who have tackled and solved large, real-world resource tech problems, then we become a world-class niche in an industry humanity can’t do without.”

Kyriacou came to Perth from the UK with his family when he was five.

He connected science and business early without seeing where it might lead.

“I realised later it’s called being an entrepreneur.

“I was 10 years old and obsessed with reading everything I could about physics and designing and building things. I made a simple LED switch and my mum suggested I sell it as a product. It hadn’t entered my mind that you could do that.

“A year later I was making and selling sherbet to the other year sixes in my school. I remember being amazed by the incredible profit and how keen my classmates were for it.”

Later he was at Edith Cowan University in Perth getting an electronic systems (VSLI design) degree and came across the seminal Al Reis and Jack Trout tome, “The 22 immutable laws of marketing”, in a pile of discarded books outside the business professor offices.

“I just gorged on that book,” Kyriacou says.

“It completely realigned my world view.

“It’s not about pushing out the most elegant efficient solution, it’s really about understanding the customer and giving them what they want in a way that is positioned and presented how they can best appreciate it.”

Kyriacou made money on property during the 2000s mining boom and got involved in start-ups and a company buyout in Perth. A Santa Clara University-sponsored Silicon Valley immersion program offered a ticket to California and a new world of learning and networking. Kyriacou recalls getting some useful advice from Apple angel investor Mike Markkula at a dinner in the first week he was there. He ended up on the university’s business school advisory board. The program was “six months of the greatest experience you could imagine”.

It also involved Berkeley and Stanford universities.

Kyriacou would become a global ambassador for Berkeley’s Sutardja Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SCET) and a SCET industry fellow. His fellowship focus on positive deviance and anomaly detection with applied machine learning – in essence, “mining anomalies to uncover what the best companies, funds, ventures, leaders, etc, do differently” – was featured in a “Best of Berkeley SCET” showcase.

He’s advised and had mentoring roles with accelerators in Europe, the US and Australia.

“With Kopernicus I’m fusing my own experience, skills and networks with the advanced machine learning techniques I’ve been teaching at Berkeley,” Kyriacou says.

“The pressure of teaching computer science at arguably the top computer science institution in the world forced me to formalise a lot of the general ideas I’d been working with.

“It’s like a modern-age Good to Great [Jim Collins’ iconic business book about “why some companies make the leap and others don’t”] but scaled into petabytes and run by AI.

“We say the Kopernicus Insights Engine accelerates corporate insights. One of our users calls it McKinsey-in-a-box.

“Our AI is trained on 10 billion datapoints comprising 12 million private and public companies.

“We probably lead the world in terms of the insights we can generate, and every month we’re able to generate more and more valuable insights.”

 

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