Oil and gas giant Woodside Energy announced a new collaboration with IBM to continue to advance its AI efforts and explore use cases for quantum computing. 

As part of the collaboration Woodside will become a member of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, which is a collaborative industrial-academic laboratory focused on advancing fundamental AI research. 

Woodside is also the first commercial Australian organisation to join the IBM Q Network, a community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, start-ups and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing. 

Woodside and IBM will use quantum computing to conduct deep computational simulations across the value chain of Woodside’s business, the companies said. 

Speaking at IBM’s Cloud Innovation Exchange in Sydney yesterday, Woodside CEO Peter Coleman explained quantum computing could help with cybersecurity efforts to protect critical infrastructure as well as with the “basic physics of what happens in our plant, particularly around flow assurance” leading to more accurate predictions for the business operations. 

“We can see those things coming, and they’re coming very very rapidly. And I think those who are not already dealing with are going to get left behind, very quickly,” Coleman said. 

The announcement builds on Woodside’s five-year relationship with IBM, centred largely around cognitive projects. 

Looking back to 2013, Coleman said the company saw promising results from its data and analytics practice and wanted to make a big bet on AI. 

“Rather than do the easy stuff which is generally put AI in a call centre … I said, we’ve got to go holistically at this and we will go straight into it as a company,” he said. 

The first use case the company selected was an AI system which responds to staff queries to surface the most relevant information from the company’s corpus. There are now 25 million documents loaded in Watson and 80 per cent of employees use Watson on a daily basis, Coleman said. 

Coleman flagged further AI use cases as the company embarks on its next wave of mega projects. Woodside is planning to spend US$30 billion on projects over the next six years and will use AI to identify materials and check if they match what has been ordered. 

The CEO also expects AI to cut Woodside’s US$1 billion maintenance bill by as much as 30 per cent by using AI to identify insulated cladding which has corroded. 

Woodside is also working to build a “cognitive plant” that is able to operate itself, with assistance from NASA

Commenting on the partnership, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said, “IBM is excited to join with Woodside, one of our first Watson clients globally, to help enable their pioneering vision of developing an intelligent plant.

“Together, Woodside and IBM will push the frontiers of innovation, working with the world’s most advanced researchers in quantum computing and next generation AI.”

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