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From ChatGPT to machine-generated art, AI is everywhere. How can it optimise the maritime industry?

By Victor Szilagyi, Head of Product, Sedna

At the start of the year, Microsoft’s Chief Executive Satya Nadella declared that “the age of AI is upon us.” The statement followed the company’s multi-billion investment into OpenAI, the research company that’s home to AI ‘superstar’ ChatGPT. With almost every tech giant pushing investment into this space, it is evident that we are in something of an AI goldrush.

In fact, there are fewer hotter topics right now. From text-writing large language models like ChatGPT to AI email tools, searches and use of AI and similar technologies  skyrocketed in recent months, with a 97% rise in company filings mentioning artificial intelligence in the first three months of the year compared with the previous quarter. There has been a flurry of new product launches in recent months, including Google’s Bard and Claude 2 produced by the US firm Anthropic.

While there has been some concern on how this may impact certain jobs and functions, businesses are already using the technology for, among other things, ideation and brainstorming, translation, text completion, sentiment analysis, as well as AI for email management and document summarisation.

This includes both modern-day businesses as well as long-established sectors, such as the supply chain sector, an industry rebounding from the fallout of numerous global challenges in recent years. For example, a study conducted earlier this year by 451 Research, a technology research company owned by S&P Global, found that 84% of logistics service providers are already using or piloting AI - or they have plans to do so in the next two years. 

By leveraging historical data and applying AI algorithms, companies can predict future cargo demand with greater accuracy to optimise their inventory levels, identify the optimal routes for delivery vehicles to reduce transportation costs, and improve warehouse operations. And early adopters within supply chain management have already noted how AI has improved costs by up to 65%.

A new era for artificial intelligence in the maritime industry 

Such cost-savings and efficiencies are set to majorly impact ocean freight in particular. Since the pandemic, the only real consistency for maritime businesses has been volatility. From fast-evolving charter rates and limited crews facing lockdowns and illnesses, the past few years have been described by the World Economic Forum as a ‘global logistical chaos’. As a result of this global upheaval and uncertainties, shipping firms are increasingly looking inwards as to where they can maximise efficiencies, reduce costs and carve out a competitive advantage.

Within the broader supply chain, AI can be deployed to optimise fleet operations. For example, machine learning can make shipping routes more efficient by scanning big datasets of GPS, weather and fuel information. Elsewhere, there is exploration in the industry for the use of AI in autonomous ships, cargo loading and unloading, and supporting shipping’s green movement. For example, companies like ZeroNorth, one of Sedna’s partners, are using their machine learning capabilities to remove inefficiencies and move the maritime community towards the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)’s accelerated push to decarbonise the industry and reach its newly set net-zero target ‘by or around 2050’.

Given its potential benefits, the field is accelerating at lightning speed. A map published earlier this month by shipping and logistics investor firm, Flagship Founders, highlights that a fifth of global maritime tech start-ups are now using AI and data-driven decisions to help automate processes and speed up decision-making.

Sedna is one of these companies. In fact, we’ve been thinking about how we can bring in AI to maximise the potential of shipping for years - concentrating on automation of the email inbox.

The drive for automation in the maritime industry

In the past few years, the use of automation to make gains in maritime tasks has accelerated rapidly, in part a result of the world entering into enduring lockdowns and a move to increased remote-based working.

As global maritime innovation group, Thetius, outlined in a recent whitepaper, the automation of processes can often be deemed as the ‘less glamorous’ side of digital transformation. However, it can pay dividends in delivering efficiencies and time savings for a company from automation of port call documents to management of charter party processes and non-compliance checks. 

What would otherwise be time-consuming tasks can quickly be captured in an efficient and consistent manner. In addition to potential cost-savings (with classification society DNV predicting that shipowners could reduce operating costs by around 30% by implementing digital systems and processes), users can also get time back to complete much more important aspects of their job. 

And the recognition for the return on investment and efficiency gains that can come from digital automation of processes is growing, with a recent survey by Marcura finding that just under half of processes have been fully automated in those interviewed. Although, gaps remain. 

Automating the email inbox

With around 350 billion emails being sent and received each day - and email remaining the beating heart of fast-developing shipping communications and transactions - the inbox is a central point of the workday calling out for greater automation. 

While in recent years once ubiquitous office systems - like the fax machine - have gathered dust, and we have seen the emergence and consumption of new social media and chat-based platforms, email has continued to reign supreme. And with siloed inboxes, the need to manually search for and file emails, and information also being stored in separate apps and online platforms, it has resulted in cumbersome processes, disconnected workflows and data fragmentation. 

Across the board, over 40% of workers spend at least a quarter of their work week on manual tasks, like data collection and data entry. For maritime and other supply chain businesses, processing hundreds, if not thousands, of incoming messages a day containing important and fast-changing information, like weather, environment, location and cargo data, teams are at constant risk of missing and duplicating information, and acting promptly. 

Given this outlook, we’re building Sedna to use AI in multiple ways to bring greater value to email.

Examples of AI use for maritime shipping

Our all-in-one communication solution is using natural language processing and named entity recognition techniques to help identify and extract the “intent” of an email – from a customer requesting a new quote, to a carrier providing a proof of delivery -  in order to tag and route messages effectively to other internal systems. 

The result: faster customer response time, better data, and less time spent by your operations team manually reviewing emails for the more important tasks. Sedna has been at the forefront of this work, building the proprietary tech to push the limits of how we attach value and context to email and save employees time and energy. 

We also launched ten additional features earlier this year using Sedna’s own AI technology to automate repetitive and manual work tasks all from within the inbox. This includes invoice processing, deleting personal data, managing quotes, and keeping track of service-level agreements (SLAs) and estimated time of arrivals (ETAs), to help maritime businesses save time and resources, improve internal processes and organisation, and reduce the risk of missing business-critical emails to mitigate potential errors that in a worst-case scenario could have the potential of resulting in lost revenue or safety risks.

Our AI tools for email also allow us to identify any type of data that can be used to identify someone, like their name, address, phone number, passport information, and social security numbers - known as Personal Identifiable Information (or PII). In support of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), our customers can define rules to remove such emails, thereby bolstering email security across their business. Additionally, we also offer time-based removal of emails, following GDPR legislation where personal information should be removed when no longer necessary for an organisation to keep.

And it doesn’t stop there. Given the exponential growth and availability of new artificial intelligence tools and thinking, we are continuing to explore how we can further utilise AI email management  to improve how we extract and enrich data within the inbox to  provide as much value as possible to aid business performance.

Speeding up digital maritime: What’s next for AI?

From ChatGPT to automating manual and repetitive tasks, artificial intelligence is transforming the world - and we are only just scraping the surface of what’s to come. 

Despite being a centuries-old industry, shipping has remained at the forefront of global trade, economies and societies for generations. In today’s interconnected world, it is pivotal that we continue to explore the value of AI to drive forward digital, automated and efficient shipping for the industry to continue its leading global role today and in years to come. 

For Sedna, this starts with the inbox. Recognising the age-old problem of email and the potential that data-driven solutions can have in enriching messages to drive business performance, we are uniquely positioned to help customers benefit from AI for email. We enable customers to intelligently action their own data, once locked in their inbox, to use as a competitive advantage through  natural language processing to improve search in the inbox, enriching emails with data, and having enhanced capabilities to identify the intent of what people are discussing. This will be especially important as the industry continues to rebound from recent disruptions and in order to remain agile to tackle further challenges. 

In addition to these fast-paced inbox developments, the inbox itself will also play an important role in the evolution of AI for email. With any AI tool only as good as the data and training fed into it, given the incredible volume of data entering the inbox each day, incoming messages will play a leading role in training up and improving AI models of the future.

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