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"Artificial Intelligence Has Come to Change Paradigms"

Interview with Sebastián Benavides, President of proEXPLO 2023


For the Peruvian geologist who led one of the largest and most important mining exploration meetings in LATAM, this technology is going to break paradigms in the industry and has definitely changed the way of thinking, interpreting, and working in geology.

In this interesting interview, he gives us his vision of various issues and scenarios of mining in Peru and the region. A safety pin to know where we are and where we are going.



On May 8, 9, and 10, the International Congress of Prospectors and Explorers was held in Lima, Peru - proEXPLO, and in all things, it greatly exceeded the expectations of its organizers and attendees. "It has been the largest meeting in its entire history, with more than 2,000 in-person attendees, which obviously fills us with satisfaction," says Sebastián Benavides, geologist and President of proEXPLO 2023.

In his capacity as host, he had to interact with all kinds of attendees: from academics to mining company executives, students, startups, and authorities. In addition, he witnessed the keynote talks that were given and toured the technology fair arranged for the participants from start to finish. With all this information, we wanted to know your opinion about what is happening in mining, and how you see the future in the world of exploration. Below is a most interesting extract.


After everything seen, discussed, and heard, what is your diagnosis of the mining exploration business in Peru?

Investment in mining exploration in Peru has been growing at a good pace since the pandemic. In fact, last year's investment increased more than the global average, however, this must be analyzed in the context of the setback we experienced in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from which we have not yet recovered. In 2017 we were the first in the Region, today we are third, behind Chile and Mexico. Although we have grown and improved as of 2020, this has happened in the midst of a world where investment in exploration has grown remarkably globally, and in which, unfortunately, we have lost competitiveness. The latter for two reasons: delays in obtaining environmental permits in early projects, which can take up to a year and a half, and the negative perception of mining in certain sectors of the country's population. We are working to connect more with society and make the contribution we provide to Peru and the world more evident. Gaining more confidence is one of the great challenges.


What would be your most relevant conclusions from this edition of proEXPLO and which mining companies should take into account?

First, there is still a lot of energy and confidence in mineral exploration in Peru. There is a large force of projects advancing and significant investment in exploration. Good progress has been made on different projects and important plans for the future.

Secondly, the main new projects under development come from other countries and unfortunately, we have seen few new projects being presented in Peru. Clearly, environmental permits for early projects are holding back progress on this front.

Finally, the issue of critical elements. We had a couple of keynote talks on this. Copper continues to be one of these elements due to its important role in the transition to renewable energies. In Peru, we have a very good portfolio of copper projects, but there is still a lot to be done to understand the country's potential in other critical elements that have been less explored, such as Lithium or Rare Earth.


What technologies are being implemented with force in the world of mineral exploration and will they continue to be a trend in the coming years?

On the one hand, the advancement of different specialized technologies in geochemistry, geophysics, spectral geology, etc. is being strongly developed. Several of these cases were presented in proEXPLO talks and also many technologies were presented at the trade fair. On the other hand, important advances are being made in the fields of data management, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to be able to connect all these different fields and be able to analyze more data, with more dimensions in a more affordable way for the human being.

The role of geologists is going to change as a result of this because they will have more and more tools and will be more efficient when it comes to managing their data. You will be more efficient when collecting the data and you will have more time to interpret it. Artificial Intelligence (AI) helps geologists make more informed decisions, but it doesn't do the work for them. Geoscientists work in a world with a lot of uncertainty and little information, therefore, tools like these are very valuable to us.


And how do you perceive the adoption of this type of new technology by mining companies in Peru and Latam?

As in all industries, there are companies that are at a stage where they adopt these technologies earlier than others. The mining industry, in general, may be slower than other industries in certain aspects, but when positive results are seen, all mining companies are quick to jump on board. Exploration teams should be more willing to embrace these technologies and apply them, as they could end up helping us in our search for discovery. Although there is still a certain suspicion or lack of understanding of AI, little by little there is greater confidence and expectations in its contribution. Clearly, AI has come to change paradigms of what can be achieved and we are just scratching the surface.


What do you think of the new generations of geologists entering the job market and how do you think they will impact the current way of working?

I am very pleased to see that the new generations are much more diverse and inclusive, which will positively affect the way we explore and will bring a greater diversity of thought. This was evident in the amount of female participation among the young proEXPLO participants. The geologist now entering the industry is going to have to navigate a relatively confusing time, balancing important field work and gaining experience in the rocks with constant advances in software, technologies, and databases. Both are crucial for its future development.

New geoscientists must understand, at least at a base level, the different geosciences to understand how they are all interconnected and to be able to make good interpretations. But, there are basic things that have not changed yet, such as a passion for this job, constant curiosity, and teamwork. Without it, geology loses all its magic.


Finally, what do you think are the main pain points that put success in mining exploration at risk in Peru and Latam?

Environmental permits and bureaucracy, because the desire to invest and the geological potential are there. 80% of exploration projects are not advancing for this reason. The main barrier is this and the challenge is to be able to unite as an industry, society, and State to advance much more expeditiously.


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