Kok-Kwang Phoon:
Mapping Site Investigation Data in Data-centric Geotechnics

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The purpose of this keynote lecture is to broadly conceptualize the agenda for data-centric geotechnics, an emerging field that attempts to prepare geotechnical engineering for digital transformation. The agenda must include development of methods that make sense of all real-world data sensitive to the physical context of geotechnics (not selective input data for a physical model or abstract data-driven analysis connected to geotechnics in a peripheral way) and offer insights of significant value to critical real-world decisions (not decisions for an ideal world or decisions of minor concern to geotechnical engineers). These two elements are termed “data centricity” and “fit for practice” in the agenda. Given that a knowledge of the site is central to any geotechnical engineering project, data-driven site characterization (DDSC) must constitute one key domain in data-centric geotechnics, although other infrastructure lifecycle phases such as project conceptualization, design, construction, operation, and decommission/reuse would benefit from data-informed decision making as well. One part of DDSC that addresses numerical soil data in a site investigation report and soil property databases is pursued under Project DeepGeo. The purpose of Project DeepGeo is to produce a 3D stratigraphic map of the subsurface volume below a full-scale project site and to estimate relevant engineering properties at each spatial point based on actual site investigation data and other relevant Big Indirect Data (BID). Uncertainty quantification is necessary, as real-world data is insufficient, incomplete, and/or not directly relevant to derive a deterministic map. The computational cost to do this for a 3D true scale subsurface volume must be reasonable. Ultimately, geotechnical structures need to be a part of a completely smart infrastructure that fits the circular economy and need to focus on delivering service to end-users and community from project conceptualization to decommission/reuse with full integration to smart city and smart society. Although current geotechnical practice has been very successful in taking “calculated risk” informed by limited data, imperfect theories, prototype testing, observations, among others and exercising judicious caution and engineering judgment, there is no clear pathway forward to leverage on digital technologies to meet more challenging needs such as sustainability and resilience engineering.

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Prof. Kok-Kwang Phoon is Cheng Tsang Man Chair Professor and Provost, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). He obtained his BEng and MEng from the National University of Singapore and his PhD from Cornell University. Prof Phoon is particularly interested in developing statistical and other data-driven methods to support decision making in geotechnical engineering. He has edited 3 books and authored 1 book: Model Uncertainties in Foundation Design (CRC Press, 2021). He was bestowed the ASCE Norman Medal twice in 2005 and 2020, and the Humboldt Research Award in 2017, among many others. He is the Founding Editor of Georisk, appointed Board Member of ISSMGE, and Advisory Board Member for the WEF Global Risks Report. He was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Engineering Singapore in 2012. You can find out more on his website: https://www.sutd.edu.sg/About/People/SUTD-Leadership/Professor-Phoon-Kok-Kwang