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Arctic 2.0: How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Develop a Frontier

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 June 2019


Technology has an outsized impact on the modern world; it is how we have tamed our frontiers. But that role is largely ignored when it comes to the Arctic frontier. Emerging technologies, especially AI, can enable desperately needed services and infrastructure—but they can also challenge ethics, law, and policy, as they usually do. For instance, autonomous icebreaker ships pose a dual-use dilemma since they can be used for both humanitarian and military purposes. As a lesson for other frontiers, this article will broadly introduce the potential role of AI in the changing Arctic and some of the ethical concerns that deserve attention before that future arrives.

Roundtable: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Global Affairs
Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2019 

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The authors thank the National Science Foundation (award #1317798) and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research for their generous support. We also thank the Fulbright Specialist Program, the Icelandic Fulbright Commission, and the University of Iceland for hosting research visits. Finally, we thank Anna Kietzerow for her editorial assistance and the editors of Ethics & International Affairs for convening this timely roundtable.



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2 Patrick Lin, “Artificial Islands, Robo-Ships, Sleepless Soldiers. Is this the Future of the Arctic?,” World Economic Forum, July 12, 2018,

3 Eilís Quinn, “Arctic Council Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, January 16, 2018,

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7 Luke Coffey, “As the Ice Melts, the Arctic's Strategic Importance Sharpens into Focus,” TRT World October 19, 2018,

8 Quoted in Keupp, Marcus Matthias, “Arctic Security, Sovereignty, and Rights of Utilization: Implications for the Northern Sea Route,” in Keupp, Marcus Matthias, ed., The Northern Sea Route: A Comprehensive Analysis (Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer, 2015), p. 23CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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19 Michaeleen Doucleff, “Are There Zombie Viruses in the Thawing Permafrost?,” January 24, 2018, radio broadcast, All Things Considered, 6:48,

20 Allhoff and Golemon, “Bioethics in the Arctic.”

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31 “Transforming the Way Goods are Transported,” X,

32 Allhoff, “Alaska, Food Security, and Climate Change.”

33 Stephanie Harper, “The Greenhouse Where Tomatoes Grow in Iceland,” Atlas Obscura, June 13, 2018,

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39 Alex Brokaw, “Autonomous Search-and-Rescue Drones Outperform Humans at Navigating Forest Trails,” Verge, February 11, 2016,

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41 “A Swarm of Robots to Clean Up Oil Spills,” SA+P,

42 Agency for Science, Technology and Research, “Nanotechnology Providing the Tools to Clean Up Oil Spills,”, October 11, 2016,

43 Lin, “Military 2.0.”

44 Cecelia Kang, “Melting Arctic Ice Makes High-Speed Internet a Reality in a Remote Town,” New York Times, December 2, 2017, See also Arctic Council Task Force on Telecommunications Infrastructure in the Arctic, Telecommunications Infrastructure in the Arctic: A Circumpolar Assessment (Tromsø, Norway: Arctic Council Secretariat, 2017),

45 “Loon for All: Balloon-Powered Internet for All,” Project Loon, Google,

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49 Ronald O'Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress [May 24, 2018] (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, 2018),

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51 Dawn Stover, “Nuclear Power Plant of the Future?,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 29, 2018,

52 Tracy Lindeman and Citylab, “Norway Is Entering a New Era of Climate-Conscious Architecture,” Atlantic, December 15, 2018,

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55 Winnie Hu, “Your Uber Car Creates Congestion: Should You Pay a Fee to Ride?,” New York Times, December 26, 2017,

56 O'Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China.

57 Ibid.

58 Megan Specia and Mikko Takkunen, “South China Sea Photos Suggest a Military Building Spree by Beijing,” New York Times, February 8, 2018,

59 Nathan J. Robinson, “Is It Ethical to Use Amazon?,” Current Affairs, December 8, 2018,

60 Lin, “Moral Gray Space of AI Decisions.”

61 Darren Quick, “Nano-Particle Coating Prevents Ice Buildup on Roads and Power Lines,” New Atlas, October 30, 2009,