The Future of GIS

As I’m gearing up to write a paper for a conference, I’m doing a bit of research for it in regards to GIS and general trends of the future. To begin, I decided to re-watch an inspirational TED talk that a friend shared with me called “Not Recession but Transformation”, given by Edie Weiner, president of The Future Hunters. In her talk, she states that many lost their jobs during the recession of 2008 because the economy was transitioning from the Emotile Economy to the Metaspace Economy, and that this is a recurring event that happens during economic transition periods (like between the Agricultural, Industrial, and Post-Industrial Economies). The Metaspace Economy, which focuses on the importance of space, is divided into (at the time of this talk, eight, but now) ten categories – all I feel current/future GIS may be able to positively contribute to – which are as follows:

  • INNER-SPACE: mapping of the brain; surely if GIS can map and analyse nodes and networks for roads we can extend that to neural pathways.
  • OUTER-SPACE: satellites and space exploration; let’s start collecting real-time information on this planet and others!
  • CYBER-SPACE: online life and virtual worlds; lots of data we can process here where we could do things like map social media.
  • MICRO-SPACE: atomic level stuff; maybe mapping molecular pathways and clouds.
  • TIME-SPACE: the economic value of time; 4D GIS and the value of informed decision making that GIS offers can make a difference here.
  • DESIGN-SPACE: the importance of look/feel for differentiation; maps can be works of art and beautifully visualise information.
  • GREEN-TO-BLUE-SPACE: environmentally putting back more than we consume; GIS can analyse environmental impacts and how to maximise positive output.
  • STORAGE-SPACE: where we put our stuff (e.g. digital information, food & water, energy, etc.); we can improve data structures to maximise storage as well as use GIS to determine the best place to put things.
  • PLAY-SPACE: gamification for engagement; there are currently a number of initiatives that gamify maps (one such example is AirProbe).
  • INTER-SPACE: new and diverse “nets”; Esri has launched ArcGIS Online, a web GIS that allows people to easily create maps and share data, and their own social network – GeoNet.

Working in an academic institution, I can sometimes get a bit disillusioned by the “buzzword bingo” that goes on – BIM, Interdisciplinary, Resilience, SmartCities, Citizen Science, Big Data, etc. They’re catchy rebrandings of existing ideas that I feel we have to put into proposals to get funding or write in our papers to get published. And again, maybe it’s because of where I work, I feel like we’re already researching these “future” trends, so I want to know what lies beyond.

After some digging, three great resources I found were “Geographic information science as a multidisciplinary and multiparadigmatic field” (Blaschke & Merschdorf, 2014), “Spatial Computing” (Shekhar, Feiner & Aref, 2016), and “Future trends in geospatial information management: the five to ten year vision” (UN-GGIM, 2015). Largely looking at these, I believe we’ll see the following in the future and beyond for GIS:

The Ubiquity of Sensors – various devices will actively and passively collect enormous and various kinds of spatial and non-spatial information that AI will use to make informed decisions for us.

Innovations in Decision Making – AI will begin to play a bigger role in making decisions for us, but there will still be a need for humans to realise possible new links between spatial and non-spatial information sources that AI would not be able to determine.

The Increase of Information Dissemination – data and datasets will become bigger, may potentially be unstructured or of varying quality, and will come from multiple sources, requiring us to be much more scrutinous about them to decipher meaning.

Greater Relevance of Spatial Thinking – Better understanding of precisely how people perceive, understand and move through space, indoors and outdoors, will allow us to develop more focused and relevant solutions to meet their current and future needs.

The Need to be Interdisciplinary – (I know I said I felt this was a bit of a buzzword; however…) The need to collaborate between different areas of specialism will not only lead to new opportunities, but will be increasingly necessary in order to remain relevant.

Interoperability as a Necessity – specialising in one knowledge domain, one programming language, one software platform, etc. will no longer be sufficient; hybrid solutions will combine the best of everything: open/proprietary, professional/volunteered geographic information, etc.

Some of these are parts of the ideas from the buzzwords, and of course, with all of these topics, there will be concerns on data quality, privacy, trust and licensing. There will also be methodological conflicts as people attempt to collaborate with one another, but these are old and continuing problems that shouldn’t stand in the way of us moving forward; to quote Edie:

“Let’s start getting on with the new, stop protecting the old. Let’s take the barriers away from people being able to exceed in the economy. Whatever skill or talent they have… We need a future that is about the future, not the past.”

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