Technology: the soaring evolution of the human capacity| COMPASS Editorial by Captain Mattheou Dimitrios

-Editorial article- By Captain Mattheou Dimitrios

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”  Steve Jobs


For centuries man has been roaming the world’s oceans on various forms of ships and seafaring was a daring venture, undertaken by men of vision with great courage and (inter)personal skills. In the early days of seafaring, ships were largely managed by their crew, notably the Master. However as humans, and more specifically as seamen, we are endowed with an inner drive to explore the nature of our surroundings. We are rewarded often in our attempts to learn new things, to discover new places and coexist with people of different nationality and culture. But at the same time, the world around us taught us rules of behaviour that constrained our inner urge toward this free exploration. Through technology, this inner urge offers the greatest thrills letting us accomplish things that others believe cannot be done.

It’s Greek to Me

Technology is by many a deep seeded misunderstood term that divides opinions and thus often confronts people with a non-existent fear. It is a fear generated by ignorance.  Therefore, it is vitally important to know the roots of the term technology to better understand its evolution and thus purpose in our future.

The word technology comes from two Greek words, techne and logos. Techne means art, skill or craft. In its broad meaning it mirrors to the way, the manners, or means of carrying out a project.  Logos means word, rules or principles; the utterance by which inward thought is expressed. So, literally, technology reflects to the words or discourse used to perform a particular art or technique and more importantly resonates to the belief in the utility of technology for the improvement of human societies.

Inception- Transition- Integration

Technology is a combination of physical objects (hardware), human skills, as well as organizational structures and functions; it is a system.  This system has been created by the people for the people and uses knowledge and organizational principles to produce tools and techniques useful for the achievement of a purpose. It is a big challenge for Shipping to adopt such an operating system. However, it depends on how we perceive and respond to that challenge. In this respect, the challenge is essentially a matter of how we leverage our people and processes, how we deliver our products (or/and services), how we manage pricing, how we promote our brand recognition and how well it is perceived in the shipping marketplace. In other words, how effectively and efficiently we perform with the absence of technology. In order to comprehend with the presence of technology and digitalization and cultivate a SMART shipping industry with SMART resources, we must first realize the fact that technology in shipping management should be an integral part of the value chain in shipping itself.

Technology is a useful servant but yet a dangerous master

Technology is no doubt one of biggest drivers of organizational transformation. However, human interactions are what build personal connections — and these are ultimately what customers remember and employees appreciate.

Technology does not advance for its own sake and should not be viewed as de-humanizing; quite the opposite. Technology offers the user the opportunity to reach his or her greatest potential. Shipping will not lose its interest in people by being technology driven; rather, technology is a key to address the increasing needs of our people, our seafarers or shore based employees. In our field, we must work with caution and bridge the gap between technology and people. There is no doubt that technology will continue to advance our industry and allow our daily operation to become easier and more efficient, but technology can take us only so far. People have to step in and make technology understandable and usable for others. There is a value-added partnership between humans and technology that will continue to change our world.

Technology should not be considered as a panacea and be blindly trusted, and the human element needs to be carefully monitored. Intelligent, well-trained, highly-skilled and experienced professional seafarers make critical mistakes despite the advances in technology which have been designed to make them more efficient and safer in the way they operate. It is extremely important that we should get to the root of this concern so that we can introduce corrective measures. Certainly fatigue, health, familiarity, carelessness, family problems, pressure, shipboard living conditions can all play a part. People remain a basic component with all their strengths and weaknesses; they can both cause a disaster and prevent it. Our task is to sort out the issues and to build on the strengths and correct the weaknesses. This means that matters concerning seafarers need to be woven into the fabric of all international regulatory regimes. Not enough thought has been given to desirable attributes, such as mental and physical strengths, attitudes and personality to enable this century’s mariners to command a modern ship loaded with current and future technology. We are not there yet.

Human capacity- The cornerstone of the evolution

The dramatic technological changes in shipping permitted the development of larger, faster and more complex ships than have ever been dreamed of previously. Yet, while significant gains in safety have undeniably been made, unfortunately casualties and incidents still do occur. In my view, we should applaud the safety improvements which are attributed to technology but if we are to achieve further gains, we must put the same amount of effort and energy into the one area begging for attention and that is human element. Ship owners will have to provide sophisticated and technologically advanced assessment centres to attract and retain talented people. Governments and shipping companies have to work jointly in order to protect the maritime culture, by recruiting the right type of young people who can be trained and developed into seafarers with the right attributes to become efficient and reliable watch keepers. In order to face this challenge we need to recast our education and training systems to develop these young minds so they become diligent.

However, we cannot ignore the emergence of cloud computing, digitization, test and learn strategies that have transformed human resources into a series of data centres and platforms. It seems that the human element may start to become digitized and commoditized through artificial intelligence. Digitalisation has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of human input needed by automating most of the workload. But no matter how fast digital technology is seeping into shipping HR departments in several fascinating ways, it cannot replace the human element.

Digitization as a link to facilitate human connection in Shipping

As Millennials take more positions within corporations, the influence of technology will increase, and provide a culture that values connection across the Shipping Industry. The challenge is now upon us, as it is upon the rest of the world. We must continue to adapt, or risk becoming obsolete. There is a great deal of fear around this concept — the idea that technology will replace humans. To the contrary, digital technology can unleash the power of human ingenuity, empathy, and judgment. Furthermore, digitalization will provide the maritime sector with a platform to interact with modern e-commerce companies and charterers, which will ensure its survival and continued relevance in the coming decades, at the same time offering the potential to deliver safer, greener and more efficient carrier operations.  It’s up to us to embrace this technology revolution, and the limitless benefits that it will bring.

Developing a tech-dig-culture

In recent years, the gradual adoption of digitisation and intelligent automation by the Shipping industry has grown across many industrial sectors. As levels of automation, informatics, robotics, sensors and mobile devices increase, it is particularly important to remember that human skills will still remain essential for many tasks. The current challenge for industry is to include Human Factors with engineering and technology developments in order to optimise how workforces and infrastructure are prepared for the transformational changes being brought about by augmented digitisation and smart systems.

Getting humans ready for the future workplace

Humans are able to respond to unusual or unexpected situations, and contribute towards the resilience of a system. Inevitably, all of this means that future workplaces are going to look very different, and it is important that we consider the implications for design and implementation. It is important to consider how to prepare our people who will be called upon to adapt their tasks, techniques, processes, and cultures. For new systems to be successful, we need to ensure that people are not only able, but keen to work with them, and that the technologies genuinely enhance jobs, and have a positive impact on workplace productivity and satisfaction. To ignore the human element is to miss the larger point: Technology should be about empowering people to live better lives not making them fearful of the future. Only by embracing and coming to terms with that universal truth will the tech industry be able to ensure the technology created reflects the best of human nature.