One after another, they made their way to the stage. Dressed in their crisp, naval uniforms, men and women from some of the world’s most powerful maritime nations ascended to the lectern. Looked out to the audience. And spoke about interoperability and its critical role for the success of maritime security operations.
To be sure, getting different units to communicate and cooperate effectively has always been a struggle. But it seems there’s another reason why this term is becoming so prominent in the maritime space: the interoperability between man and machine.
Across all presentations, the call for intelligent applications to support analysts and decision-makers was heard loud and clear. But interoperability wasn’t the only term being discussed; there was another that came with even greater frequency: Artificial Intelligence (AI). While mostly said as an afterthought and always with some hesitation, the underlying challenge remains the same: how can we help the people who need information sift through huge amounts of data and deduce the most relevant insights?
This wasn’t always the case. In 2016, not a single slide presented on stage included the words ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Speakers focused on the challenges of collecting, processing and disseminating data. Organizations wanted more sensors, more information, greater coverage, greater frequency, greater sensitivity, new formats, and to tap into the fresh operational opportunities being unlocked using these new sources.
Today, three years later, many of those opportunities are still out of reach. While data and sensors are more prevalent and powerful than ever – including AIS, SAR and optical imagery, weather, shipping databases, social media and OSINT, LRIT, VMS, UAVs, AUVs etc – their ubiquitiy creates new problems, namely: the imbalance between the need to effectively manage and make sense of these sources and systems, and the resources available to do so.
At the same time, transnational maritime crime is increasingly becoming a global security challenge. Just the other week, the UN Security Council had a first of its kind discussion on maritime security issues, and how they “threaten international peace and security”. The reality security professionals face today is that even a single event in the maritime space may have strategic implications on a nation, a region, and even the global economy. And with so much data available, expectations have become elevated – missing out or being late is simply no longer acceptable.
Reshaping the interoperability between man and machine must start by placing the human at the center once again. It’s about automating data processing from the ground up, saving analysts from spending as much as 90% of their time preparing the data for analysis. This type of automation may require serious resources to develop. But, once in place, it’s key to unlocking the real opportunities offered by AI, including: supporting operational planning through optimized routing, identifying targets deviating from trade patterns, and improving logistical and maintenance planning.
With that in mind, we feel it’s now time for the maritime security ecosystem – governments, industry and academia – to come together and embrace these challenges and help governments protect us by making the most of the data at hand.
Developing intelligent applications doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a culture of innovation and strong leadership ready to take risks and make long-term investments. Doing so will ultimately prove its worth.
This article is based on notes taken at the recent Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance Technology 2019 event in Rome