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This panel interrogates the socio-technological imaginaries of the future of a mining industry being largely unmade with the advent of synthetic or lab-grown minerals, the creation of fully automated mining operations, and the introduction of disintermediation digital technologies.
The global supply chain of natural resources has been dramatically disrupted with the growing prevalence of lab-grown synthetic minerals, the steady rollout of autonomous machines that culminate in fully automated mines, and mounting pressure for ethical and responsible sourcing of natural resources. Coupled with lowering costs of synthetic gemstone production, significant developments in energy-efficient autonomous learning systems, and new forms of political and financial accountability, the Global South's extractive industry is profoundly changing. This includes new institutional forms that blur the boundaries between mining, consultancy and NGO work, between types of operations (ASM-LSM), as well as between exploration and exploitation. After the 2011 commodity boom peak, these transformations would augur a sustainable alternative to the toll of 'conflict-laden' resources and enhance the potential for responsible sourcing by counteracting the risks associated with mining and enabling end-to-end traceability in mineral supply chains. Yet, the expansion of the extractive frontier into new spatial and technological domains may also spell out new forms of exclusion, particularly for resource-rich countries in the Global South. While the potential impact of artificial intelligence and digitalization in science, finance, manufacturing, transportation, or the energy sectors have been abundantly demonstrated, less attention has been paid to the effects of these technological developments in the extractive industries. These changes, heralded by advances in the lab-grown production of minerals and the recycling of metals, automation and robotization, as well as data mining and management, raise critical social, political and economic problems that this panel seeks to address.