Computational Ecologies, Haptic Sites of Experience, and the Co-Production of Sensory Intelligence in Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future™

Authors: Lily House-Peters*, California State University, Long Beach
Topics: Environmental Perception, Australia and New Zealand, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: mining, extraction, big data, robots, intelligence
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 14
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Western Australia’s iron-rich Pilbara region, the emergence of the ‘smart’ mine is producing novel computational ecologies via hyperspectral sensing technologies and data proliferation, introducing new ways of knowing geologic matter and making possible new ways of being in relation to subsurface spaces. Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future™ integrates complex constellations of networked sensing systems and autonomous robots to ‘paint a picture’ of the underground delivered in ‘real time’ to miners operating thousands of kilometers away from the mine site in virtual-reality enabled simulation and remote-control centers. The smart mine provides openings to consider how emerging regimes of sensation and “the environmental distributions of experience” (Gabrys 2019) animate new spatio-temporal terrains of intelligence. The immersive surroundings of the simulated digital mine produce new epistemological encounters via enactments of extraction-related processes that enable seeing and knowing the mine from multiple perspectives and vantage points. The displacement of human sensing systems from the lithic spaces of the mine to remote hyperreal simulation environments enroll nascent technologies where sensory receptors in human skin, neural signals derived from motor commands, and digital sensors embedded in the physical mine collide in haptic sites of experience. Drawing on insights from queer phenomenology, new materialism, and digital geography, I aim to expand understanding of how the emergence of haptic virtual interfaces in smart mining serves to bridge temporal and spatial displacements between human touch and perception and the remote geologic targets of the smart mine, co-producing new forms of human and more-than human sensory intelligence.

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