Geospatial futurology

Aug 2007 | Comments Off on Geospatial futurology


Technology will be needed to help manage an increasingly uncertain world

AT the turn of the millennium there was a mood of optimism and then it all changed. The dot-com bubble burst, 9/11 occurred and climate change became an “uncomfortable truth”. In other words the spirit of the age, or Zeitgeist, changed and new challenges now face societies, industries and individual people.

Technology will be needed to help manage an increasingly uncertain world where the need for good quality maps and mapping will increase.

Disruptive technologies are those which are unexpected but which have the power to change industries (not always for the good of the established players). Mobile telecommunications and the internet are good examples, and the telecoms industry is now on the lookout for new disruptors. Whereness i.e. knowing where everything or everybody is located, is a good example of a potential new disruptive technology. Although maps and GIS (Geographic Information System) are used as part of “whereness” today, in the future mobile devices will have location based services that will increasingly be able to act as sensors and create and update maps and related information spaces whilst using them. This is likely to have an impact on the traditional business of map making.

As society gets more wealthy, people have more resources to spend on things that are less important (as shown by Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs). In the past, most resources were spent on the basics like security, nourishment, clothing and warmth. Building on these foundations, some money may be available for things like education, and relationships. Finally there may be a little resource left for nonessentials covering aspects such as self-actualisation and creativity. In future, these non-essentials become the new essentials as people spend more money on fun, games, entertainment and the arts – things that speak to their emotions.

Although maps are essential to the effi cient management of the old essentials (particularly as the climate changes) it is likely that the most profi table applications will be associated with the new essentials. Examples might include augmented reality games where the reality of the outdoors is combined with the virtual reality of the computer world. When part of new mobile games or sports maps will be digitally displayed. People will move around with a digital bubble of geo-spatial information which will cause “magic” to happen when it intersects with other people’s bubbles or the bubbles associated with physical things. The magic could involve the delivery of various forms of multimedia (music, video clips etc). Clearly, new mobile devices like the Apple iPhone could be very important once positioning technology is bundled in.

There are many technical challenges for the future map industry. Firstly, moving from the 2D maps we have today, to 3D maps (that include embedded multimedia) that range indoors. Adding the dimension of time gives us 4D geospatial-temporal information spaces where dynamic events (e.g. a traffi c jam) can be combined with more static information (e.g. the road section where the jam is occurring). Secondly, the issues of openness, concerning the sharing of information and trust and the availability of open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Thirdly, the web, which is already advancing using the APIs in user generated mash-ups, will continue to develop as the semantic web gathers pace, making information more meaningful. This should lead to advancements in “machine learning” and artifi cial intelligence (which has always included research projects where mobile robots follow maps). As computer power increases then map information can become increasingly automated in its creation, manipulation and use.

The fi nal challenge will be to make things simple for people who just want answers to problems and some fun with minimum hassle. Maps (which many people fi nd diffi cult) are increasingly touching the lives of citizens but in some ways we need to make the GIS disappear so the clever software does all the work.


Robin Mannings

works in the Research Department of BT and is part of a
small foresight and futurology team. He has a special
interest in geospatial information and positioning systems.
My coordinates
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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