AGI Technology Thoughts

Beyond Cartography : BCS Presentation

Here are the slides from my presentation to the British Computer Society Geospatial Special Group last night.

On their own the slides may not make much sense, hopefully Mr. Daly will be posting a video soon and I will give an abridged version of this presentation at next weeks where2.0now ? event in Harrogate – places still available !

Written and submitted from my home (51.425N, 0.331W)

9 replies on “Beyond Cartography : BCS Presentation”

Ed, I’ve watched Martin’s video and agree that there are some exciting and very useful new ways of representing geospatial information—for certain tasks, on certain media. But it is, as you know, very provocative to suggest that these things are “beyond cartography” or that it is necessary to abandon cartography rather than build complements to it.

What most disturbs me (an unrepentant cartographer) is your list of the “problems” with maps, specifically that “abstract” and “generalised” are the first two of these. To cast these as problems defies the entire purpose of cartography in its modern conception. They are fundamental principles of cartography and, we would claim, the things that make maps useful at all. There is a Lewis Carroll passage that is always quoted in introductions to cartography (see the opening to this article for instance) to illustrate that a map with every detail of the world is useless. None of that is news to you, I’m sure.

Things like augmented reality and Street View are fantastic for getting a “sense of place” and finding your way through an environment, but I don’t think that they are universal replacements for simpler abstract maps even in on-the-ground wayfinding, much less all mobile (or other) geographic tasks.


Indeed I was provocative on purpose to make my point.

Perhaps there is an element of semantics here. Is cartography the art/science/discipline of communicating geographical concepts, or is it more specifically to do with communicating geography with respect to the limitations imposed by the original static media of paper ?

I would argue that Augmented Reality should be as much a cartographic technique as making chrolopleth maps or hill shading.

Using techniques like AR and online geospatial databases would is not be possible to create the mythical 1:1 map of the world ?

I (as a cartographer by training actually also) fear that unless cartography makes more use of the technology available today it will become less and less relevant as the interactive graphics designers of the world take over.


Thanks for the reply! I certainly agree with the point you are making about embracing modern technological capabilities for better communication of geography. The semantic difference you identified there reminds me of a friendly argument some of us used to have at the University of Wisconsin, debating whether cartography is about communicating geographic information or geographically communicating information, or to simplify it greatly, whether geography actually has much to do with it. I would say it definitely does, and I think your points about using new technologies to enhance context suggest the same.

My objection may just be one of philosophy. I think there is some danger to viewing cartography as it has developed through static paper mapping in terms of its inherent limitations, when not a few of those limitations are actually self-imposed for visual and cognitive reasons that probably transcend the specific medium. Technological feasibility shouldn’t be the sole impetus for drastic changes. (Ridiculous example: a modern screen can easily display millions of unique colors, but it’s just as bad an idea to use more than about seven on a choropleth map as it was on paper.) To issue a challenge such as yours is an effective way to provoke people to keep thinking and innovating, though; I’ll give you that!

And I must admit to fearing only hypothetical situations above; what’s out there so far (Street View, etc.) for the most part is very good and useful.



Thanks for keeping the thread going, I think our views are then similar in that we both recognise that cartography needs to move beyond paper, because as your very good example illustrates the principles of good graphic design/cartography are sometimes still relevant to the new media, but as a discipline cartography is not having the influence it could ..


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