High noon for the noon report?

During last year’s DigitalShip CIO Forum in Rotterdam I was asked whether I had changed my position on unmanned ships and the potential use of autonomous systems for navigation.

I replied that only a fool would bet against technology (just as betting against bandwidth proved such a mistake) and that there seemed little doubt that autonomous ships would become a reality at some point in the future.

To believe otherwise is to put a lid on human ingenuity and that is not likely to happen, barring some Terminator-style AI disaster in which self-aware systems decide that humans are a problem to be removed. For that we need a great deal of prescience of course and probably people other than Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking to do the warning – though they are pretty good cheerleaders in my view.

What I told the audience – whom I was keeping from their post-conference drinks – was that I believed there were plenty of things that we could and maybe should do first, before we went full tilt for the windmills.

One of those items for improvement on the industry’s wish list is the Noon Report, a piece of communication so outmoded as to be an anachronism in today’s connected world. Except of course shipping isn’t connected, not all the time anyway. Even when it is, there are sectors that prefer to be invisible, or at least inscrutable, about where they are and what they are doing.

As BMT SMART’s Peter Mantel makes clear in my most recent article for Great Circle, the noon report is the sole data point for a majority of the shipping industry. What data it provides is at best flawed, or quite likely completely wrong.

The difference in opportunity and potential between a continuous stream of data and an incomplete once daily blast is obvious, but Mantel makes a further point which is that what is needed is something that sits between the two.

The ‘leading edge’ companies can be the recipients of torrents of data that they have no idea how to process, manage and act on, but as Mantel says:

“It takes nine months of noon reporting to get same certainty in the data as three months’ continuous monitoring. We need to seriously consider how we continue. Is noon reporting good enough? About 70% of the industry still relies on it as their data source. OK, some data is better than no data but we have to understand what we’re working with.”

To read the full blog, here.

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