Offshore technology in 1897 was no more complex than a cable-tool rig atop a California pier jutting the length of a football field into the Pacific Ocean.

When oil was produced in the Summerland Field that year, a boom ensued, and in the next five years, 22 companies would drill 400 wells from 14 piers. Other drilling projects would follow, but it would be another half-century before Kerr-McGee’s Kermac No. 16 well was spudded 16 km (10 miles) from shore in the Gulf of Mexico—the first to drill beyond sight of land.

At the time, the $300,000 project was the most expensive and hazardous ever undertaken, the Associated Press said in a story recounting the event. The roughnecks manning the 12-m by 21-m (40-ft by 70-ft) platform in rough seas remembered their experiences as plenty scary, too.

So to those who fear that the next wave of oil and gas technology—artificial intelligence (AI)—will bring uncertainty to the industry and devour jobs ... well, it will but get used to it. The more it is adopted, the more the industry and its workers will benefit.

“We think this is the great story of our time,” said Malcolm Frank, executive vice president of strategy and marketing for Cognizant, in his keynote at OTC’s open- ing session on Monday, May 6. AI, he said, will join the loom of the first industrial revolution, the steam engine of the second and the assembly line of the third as the engine driving the fourth industrial revolution.

“In each of them, there was a dramatic dislocation; there was concern that jobs would go away,” Frank said. “In fact, the Luddites were right. They sabotaged the loom because it could do the work of 40 Luddites. But then it allowed massive economic expansion and made the pie bigger for all.”

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The robots, he emphasized, aren’t coming. They are already here, surrounding us in the worlds of retail, sports and industries relying on high tech, such as air- line manufacturers. In oil and gas, however, not so much.“

The good news is you’re late to the party, and that’s not a critique,” Frank said. “It’s just the nature of your industry structure. You actually can use all these different industries as petri dishes—your little R&D labs—to figure out what works well, what doesn’t work and then apply them to the energy sector.”

Start with training. Place new crew members in a classroom to teach them skills and they will retain about 10% of what they learn, he said. Utilize augmented reality or virtual reality (VR) and the retention rate leaps to 75%.

“It just completely explodes,” he said.

Walmart, encumbered by high turnover with their associates, uses 17,000 VR headsets in its training of new associates to get them up to speed. With the technology, “the world becomes this highly ambient, very rich place where you can’t break the physical from the digital—it becomes ‘phygital’—it becomes one and the same.”

The opportunity for offshore oil and gas is particularly apparent. A typical platform, he said, incorporates almost 33,000 dat points. However, only 2% of them today are instrumented.

Bots excel at the science of the work but are useless at judgement. That’s the strength of the worker. The winning combination in the future is something akin to the “Star Trek” characters of the emotional Capt. Kirk (human) and the intensely logical Mr. Spock (machine), Frank suggested. Somehow the two traits have to be glued together on the job.

“We’ve actually found, in 75% of the cases, it will enhance the job; it will protect the job,” he said. “When you ask somebody in 10 years’ time, ‘Who is your most trusted colleague at work?’ the answer may be ‘My bot.’