Yesterday, the OS ran the first terrafutures event, a one day workshop to try and bring together scientists of all types, sociologists and IT experts to look into the future and spot the trends in technology and society that will impact on the GI industry.
Some of the key findings included the future pervasivness of network connectivity and the ability of almost everything to be located across these networks in real time. At the same time the focus of economic activity globally is shifting eastward with North America and Europe becoming displaced by India and China, which will result in large new potential markets and well trained, skilled GI professional becoming available at costs a fraction of those today.
How is the traditional GI industry responding to these changes.. well not very fast, for the past 20 years you could argue that the innovation which has taken place has been a result of technology changes in mainstream IT, exploiting developments such as the web and object relational databases. Recent innovations again have come when mainstream IT developments have been adopted for use in geographical applications, Google Maps is the application of AJAX programming to mapping, but this time the traditional GI industry has been bypassed.
The area where GI innovation could make a real difference in the next few years, is also a computer science problem, but one in which GI is playing a leading role – the semantic web.
The semantic web a phrase coined by Tim Berners Lee, the “Father of the Web” relates to an “upgrade” to todays web, where more structured meaningful data is published and subscribed to by web based applications – todays web is human readable and semantic web is machine readable.
We are beginning to see the first semantic web applications which understand geography, recognising place-names in web published documents. This sounds easy but the problem in recognising when ‘Reading” means a place, rather than what you do with a newspaper is a difficult one. For GI this needs the development of more formal ways of describing geographical features and they relationships – the development of geographical ontologies.
There are many challenges ahead for the GI industry, although operationally in many areas the industry has reached maturity, there are still many questions that need to be answered.. yesterdays event was a fantastic opportunity for us GI guys to look out of the silo and take a bearing on the potential direction of our future.
Watch this space over the next week or so, I hope to bring news of our plans to podcast some of the terrafutures presentations, and congratulations to all involved in organising the first of what I hope is a series of similar meetings.