BP and Startup Beyond Limits Try To Prove That Cognitive AI Is Ready for Oil and Gas
- Trent Jacobs (JPT Digital Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- October 2018
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 26 - 29
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BP has invested more than $100 million into nine different startup companies in the past 2 years—but only one of them wants to turn your brain into a piece of its software.
The international major is working with the ambitiously named firm Beyond Limits on a set of artificial intelligence (AI) programs that will absorb the learnings of geologists and petroleum engineers, and then imitate their decision-making processes as they work on subsurface challenges together.
Before this partnership, Beyond Limits had never been involved in solving the complexities of oil and gas, which is something that might be counted against it by venture capital or prospective upstream clients. But after BP saw what the young company was working with in its office about 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, it decided to become both its largest client and its largest investor by injecting it with $20 million a year ago.
The attraction for BP came down to getting its hands on a strain of AI known as cognitive computing, or what Paul Stone refers to as “the pinnacle of the artificial intelligence pyramid.”
“We haven’t seen that elsewhere, so we wanted to be the first to engage and see where it might go in the oil and gas industry,” said Stone, who serves as a technology director in BP’s digital innovation group.
And where it lacks a prior track record in oil and gas, Beyond Limits compensates with a technology team that helped design most of the same intelligent software it is licensing from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL), an institution run by the influential California Institute of Technology in cooperation with NASA. Similar to oil and gas explorers, at JPL immense uncertainty is the perpetual driver for emerging technologies.
AJ Abdallat has served as chief executive officer of Beyond Limits since its founding in 2014 and previously spear-headed several other startups that have been spun out of work first done at JPL. He believes that this firm’s pedigree gives it a big head start in pushing the envelope on cognitive computing because “the issues and challenges we are tackling today, JPL has been tackling for decades.”
And though there remains a lively debate about where cognitive computing really stands today in terms of its human-like reasoning capabilities, Abdallat said, “People tend to judge AI based on the last 2 or 3 decades—you really need to look at what has happened in the past 5 to 6 years.”
Some of the most notable recent advancements include the AI sector proving that intelligent programs can best human reasoning when it comes to complex games such as Go and Texas Hold’em Poker. Cognitive programs also demonstrate growing promise as a diagnostic tool in the healthcare industry—a vertical that Beyond Limits is positioning itself to break into along with oil and gas.
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