Sergei M. Smirnov

Admiral Nevelskoy Maritime State University, Vladivostok  

Abstract: The goal of accelerated comprehensive development of the Arctic region and the creation of a year-round maritime transport system along the NSR waterways will be a priority for Russia, regardless of the impact of any external challenges and threats. Serious measures of investment, technological and socio-economic support are being taken to move forward in this mission. There is a tendency to consider the introduction of “Industry 4.0” technologies as a priori the most important success factor. However, according to the author, it is not necessary to absolutize the importance of modern information technologies alone. Their implementation in the Arctic programs and specific projects should be balanced, rational and necessarily take into account the needs of human capacity building.

Keywords: 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), NSR waterways, civilizational crisis, autonomous navigation, drone technologies, icebreaker, human capacity building  

The comprehensive development of the subarctic territories including the creation of a permanent maritime transport system in the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean is undoubtedly a top priority mission that should be addressed regardless of any changes in political and economic situation elsewhere.

Methods and tools to accomplish this mission, in principle, are known and available – a quantitative increase in all kinds of capacity building (technical, infrastructural, human) and the introduction of qualitatively new technologies for the implementation of projects in the field of industry, transport, energy, life support and security in the Extreme North. Problems and limitations are also known – extreme natural and climatic conditions, high operating and transport costs, a shortage of qualified labor resources trained for work in the Arctic. The anti-Russian sanctions of the collective West are not a serious obstacle to conducting this mission in the above formulation, since they focus mainly on technologies for the extraction of hydrocarbon resources on the ocean shelf. Given the changed situation on the world oil and gas markets, the Arctic oil & gas industry should hardly be considered a priority for the Russian Federation in the coming years.

The introduction of modern sophisticated technologies, most often associated with the term “Industry 4.0” (4th Industrial Revolution, 4IR) in the Russian sector of the Arctic, is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. Moreover, the problem here lies not only in the difficulty of adapting 4IR technological solutions to the extreme conditions of the Arctic or the sanctions restrictions hampering the process.

The concept of 4IR appeared in 2015 [1], when it seemed that the world was steadily following the path of technological progress, human capacity building, and widespread introduction of zero – carbon emission, green energy, industry and transport.

However, the sustainability growth paradigm in all spheres of human life does not look so optimistic today. First and most, due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new coronavirus infection by itself has not done that much harm. The ill-conceived, uncoordinated actions to combat the coronavirus by authoritative international organizations and governments of the leading powers caused much more serious blow to the global economy and logistics. The world turned towards isolationism instead of integration. As a result, we faced a container crisis, the imbalance in global and regional supply chains, a sharp rise in energy prices, uncontrolled emission of currencies, and much more. Finally, we have to deal with a large-scale armed conflict in the heart of Europe. It is likely that this conflict is also a consequence and one of the elements of a self-unwinding global civilizational crisis.

Let’s get back to the 4IR technologies. Internet-of-Things, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, autonomous vehicles, zero carbon tolerance and other 4IR “features” are wonderful things in themselves, but not revolutionary in terms of civilization. It is necessary to wait and see how the dynamic changes in the world situation will affect the tempo of its introduction. Moreover, sometimes it seems that 4IR itself has pushed the negative processes in the world, at least some of them. For example, how to characterize the “digital ghetto” associated with the Chinese “coronavirus zero tolerance” policy?

It is possible that we are dealing with a situation where the dynamics of the information (virtual) technologies has far outpaced the progress in the “physical” (material) industries. Simply put, the adherents of IT technologies that have taken the lead are trying to force the world around them to move towards virtual reality, to shape the economy and society conveniently for IT uncontrolled and unjustified spread. But the digital / virtual world, for all its temptation, will not be able to replace the world of real things, will not give us daily bread, and the test tube man can be anyone, but not the homo sapiens we consider ourselves today.

Introduction of 4IR into the maritime industry should be carried out in a balanced, rational manner, taking into account possible negative consequences for social stability, labor market, and environment protection realities. Moreover, we need to prevent a new dictate of the technologically advanced North over the backward South. Such a danger looks quite real, for example, in the field of maritime transport. Not all countries can afford the construction of green ships and smart ports. They have more urgent tasks related to the physical survival of the population, especially in remote and hard-to-reach areas.

4IR technologies can be successfully applied to almost all segments of the maritime industry operating in the Arctic:

–  maritime and combined transportation of goods along the Northern Sea Route and the Far Eastern seas,

–  scientific research in high latitudes,

–  promotion of industrial projects on the coast and shelf of the Arctic Ocean, –        preservation of the fragile environment of the polar seas taking into account its specifics.    

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