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GI Science and technology – where next?

Josef Strobl

Josef Strobl
Center for Geoinformatics
Salzburg University, Austria
Email: [email protected]

For some time now GIS has been expected to turn a corner and enter into the mainstream of computing, and maybe society. Chances are there that this will happen through a more ‘location aware’ society supported by services built on positioning, distributed geospatial databases and connected with ubiquitous telecommunication coverage. Will GI science lead the way, or will GI technology drive developments

Due to the potential of ‘location’ to serve as the critical link connecting the virtual and real worlds it is argued that the geospatial domain plays a critical role in establishing the business foundations of any information society.

When we discuss current trends and a vision where we expect to be standing several years from now, we first have to establish a clear frame of reference. GI Systems as software architectures link technology and methods to application and business domains. GI Science researches the conceptual background and methodology frameworks implemented in GI Systems and guiding applications.

GI manifested in geospatial data collections and data streams represents the real world, thus describing application domains and making them accessible for digital workflows. GI technology reaches beyond the software in GISystems to include sensor systems and dedicated interaction devices from handhelds to vision aids.

For a discussion on trends and visions, we will have to pursue an integrated perspective with a focus on what we will be able to do many years from now. The science behind that, it’s translation into technology and systems, and the availability of multiple and detailed digital representations of past, current and future realities are being integrated towards future capabilities. All GI-* combined will serve the purpose of providing an explicitly ‘spatial user interface’ for our world across all its different scales, facets, themes and user perspectives.

Recent ‘GIS Developments’
Before attempting to look into future perspectives, we first need to review recent trends as an indicator of where substantial change is currently occuring. Of course any such listing is highly subjective, but most experts will likely agree on the majority of items mentioned here:

  • More or less isolated desktop systems have become part of distributed architectures. Recent and upcoming releases of GI software clearly demonstrate that they work best against a backdrop of services feeding into the workflow of the locally-based analyst.
  • Developments initiated through the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) have crystallized the interoperability concept and contributed to a unified web of services evolving into our GI infrastructures.
  • The past ‘data bottleneck’ where projects were stifled by the enormous efforts needed to supply data has by and large given way to a ‘flood of data’. Data mining and ‘intelligent’ extraction of relevant information are critical to effective operations.
  • Part of this ‘flood’ is provided by a multitude of sensors above and at the earth’s surface. These sensors supply georeferenced streams of measurements, effectively tieing the virtual world of geographic models into the real world around our lives.
  • Largely due to these sensors and ubiquitous connectivity, capabilities for near real-time monitoring have evolved. For a large part of GIS’ past, we were essentially processing historical data, only recently we are moving towards ‘current affairs’.
  • This development has been made feasible by the now pervasive presence of positioning devices. Our societies are increasingly mobile in every respect: individual, environmental and business ‘objects’ change position frequently, without tracking our model of the real world would not be current.