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Geospatial and ethics: The way forward

Like all groundbreaking technologies, geospatial too may face ethical challenges in the near future, and perhaps that’s why the American Geographical Society has come up with such an initiative.

The whopping rate at which Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are growing sets it apart from all the other innovations that we have witnessed in recent times. However, with the increasing use of AI comes the question of ethics, especially when reports like the ‘Chinese government using AI-based technology to track and detain some of its citizens’ are doing the rounds on the Internet. Just like AI, or for that matter any other groundbreaking technology, geospatial too is likely to face ethical challenges in the near future. Perhaps that is why the American Geographical Society (AGS) has come up the initiative of EthicalGEO. So what is this initiative and how will it work? Let’s find out.

What is the initiative and how does it work?

According to the American Geographical Society’s website, “The EthicalGEO initiative seeks to activate thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs, policymakers, practitioners, students, and everyday citizens and bring them in to a global dialog that shines a light on their best ideas about the ethical challenges and opportunities posed by the many geospatial technologies and data sources that are reshaping our society.” The initiative is targeted at starting a larger discussion about the future implications of the flurry of geospatial innovations that have become part of our daily lives.

There is no preset criteria for participation, and almost anyone can become a part of this initiative by submitting his/her ideas to http://www.EthicalGEO.org in the form of a three-minute video, a blurb and supporting PDF documents. After a brief review by the society, essentially to check inappropriate content, the idea will become publicly available for the world to see. Out of the total submissions, seven entries will be selected to receive a one-year, $7,500 award to advance their ideas as an American Geographical Society EthicalGEO Fellow.

To start with (for the first year), the Fellows are limited to North Americans over the age of 18. According to the society, the decision is based on the “available resources and bandwidth”. The EthicalGEO initiative will be conducted in English. The AGS and Omidyar Network seek to identify those people from industry, government, academe and social sector who have novel ideas about how our society might adapt, innovate and evolve to harness the power of geospatial data and technology while mitigating its ethical challenges. These individuals will be helped in elevating their innovative ideas through financial support and a global platform.

How to get started with the process?

Location is at the core of several emerging technologies (Also Read: The Power of Where- Location is at the heart of applications). The applicants will have to come up with ideas to “harness the upsides while mitigating the downsides”. The video submission page will open by August 1, after which an applicant can create an account/profile, upload his/her video with a short description and attach relevant documents.

The Fellows will be selected by September 1 and the AGS Council and Staff will work with them to support their efforts. A presentation in New York City will be held on Nov 21-22, 2019 to drive this important idea.