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A dose and dash of future

Arup Dasgupta

Prof.Arup Dasgupta
Honorary Managing Editor
[email protected]

“I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.” – Albert Einstein

Technological advancement is happening so fast that any attempt at forecasting becomes an exercise in now-casting. As the world grapples with myriad problems, technology is brought to bear to find solutions and what appeared to be science fiction becomes science fact. As I sit with my notebook on my lap typing out this editorial, I am reminded on an article which appeared in 1949 in Popular Mechanics, which predicted that future computers will use 1000 vacuum tubes and weigh one and a half tons! Sixty years down the line, I am sitting with a computer weighing less than a kilogram on my lap and a million times powerful than the ENIAC, based on which the prediction was made. The lessons are, technology does not scale linearly and future developments cannot be predicted.

Geospatial technology is no different. Who would have imagined that a staid subject like geography will be revolutionised by a dose of computer science and a dash of space technology and give rise to several new technologies and applications and a new industry? In this anniversary issue, we try to look beyond what has been achieved and highlight future opportunities. We are sure that many of these opportunities are already on the way to realisation in 2009.

Geospatial technologies include GIS, GPS, imaging, photogrammetry, surveying & mapping and technologies for various applications. We have tried to track and map the trend of these technologies, both technology per se and the market for the technology. We also perceive a convergence of technologies and embedding of technologies into devices which points to exciting new products and applications. The market in applications and services is enormous both in volume and diversity. The kind of applications geospatial technology facilitates ranges from natural resources management to governance to utilities to defence and security. Geospatial technology has also opened up into areas of popular interest and has become accessible to one and all. Here too, we see convergence and embedding of geospatial applications into the overall environment of ICT applications.

There are several geospatial initiatives world wide. In the government sector, we have NSDI in India, INSPIRE in Europe and FGDC in the USA to name a few. In the non-government sector, ISO, OGC and GSDI are doing much to promote systematic thinking through standards and interoperability specifications which will result in better products and applications systems. GITA is doing its bit by providing a platform for the industry to interact with the government sector as well as among themselves. On the policy front, most governments are grappling with issues of access and control. Is banning GPS and blocking Google Maps a meaningful exercise? Too much control can be detrimental but can we afford a policy of laissez faire? What will be the golden mean? As technologies and applications develop, we need corresponding capacity build-up to make the most of the new developments. Geospatial Information Science is the new area which has opened up an attractive vista of research and development. We need new strategies and alternate ways to build capacity to meet the future demands of the government, industry and the academia.

So, what is ‘beyond’ in 2009? According to the late Arthur Clarke, “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”