GWPrime


Cartography and Cognition in the Age of Insight

Dr Derek Clarke

CHAOS! CHAOS! is probably what your brain is shouting at you as it tries to deal with the amount of information being pumped into it, with the expectation to process this information to create knowledge, ultimately for a decision to be made. This is information explosion. Your brain can only cope with so much and no more. Yet, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and its technologies, including sensor-webs and Internet of Things, the volume of data becoming available is increasing significantly. To add to this, the increasing volumes of data are largely location relevant – that is geospatial data. Geospatial data, or geospatial information, is by its very nature complex, which adds to the strain on your brain. Your brain needs assistance to cope. It needs order. Without this assistance and order, the usability of the geospatial information will be diminished – then the geospatial information will not achieve its full value.

Putting information in order

Cartography, through the representation of geospatial information, provides a means to achieve the order that is required in dealing with geospatial information. Cartography simplifies the chaos. Not only are facts given but, with cartographic visualization, unknowns are revealed. Also, cartography is efficient and effective in the presentation of the spatial relationships between phenomena or concepts.

The 4IR is moving humankind from the Information Era into the Age of Insight – a new era that is defined by insights, meaning and discoveries that come from knowledge, both individual and collective, supported by digital technologies. Collective knowledge requires collaboration between parties – advancing collaborative synergy. The Age of Insight encourages resilience, safety, inclusiveness, and sustainability – ultimately to ‘leave no one behind’.

The 4IR will significantly impact the geospatial information collectors and providers, including the national mapping organizations. These organizations will find themselves moving from providers of information, through information infrastructures, to providers of services in the creation of knowledge. This will require such organizations to move along the value-chain. Greater focus will be placed on the user and the needs of the user. This also requires increased attention being given to the usability of the geospatial information to provide the knowledge indicators required for the decision at hand.

The 4IR is moving humankind from the Information Era into the Age of Insight – a new era that is defined by insights, meaning and discoveries that come from knowledge, both individual and collective, supported by digital technologies

Key geospatial knowledge construct

Moving down the value-chain from geospatial information to geospatial knowledge will require better understanding of the geospatial knowledge constructs in the knowledge creation process and the knowledge base. A key geospatial knowledge construct is cognition. Cognition is a higher-level function of the brain, and includes forming a cognitive map, which is well associated with visualization. As such, cognition is dependent on the person’s cognitive abilities. The manner in which geospatial information is presented for knowledge creation is then of importance. Prior knowledge and experience also play a big part in the creation of new knowledge. It is then appropriate to also understand the manner in which the knowledge is stored in the person’s memory (knowledge base), so as to ensure effortless integration in the knowledge creation process. The user is using the knowledge indicators formed to provide insights, meaning and discoveries. An assessment of these leads to making a decision.

Cartographic visualization is similar to data visualization, except that cartographic visualization is more powerful and meaningful because it is using geospatial information and knowledge. New insights are provided through spatio-causal factors being revealed and explained from the geospatial knowledge, which otherwise would not be possible with ordinary data visualization.

As the national mapping organizations re-invent themselves in the 4IR era and move down the value-chain to providers of geospatial knowledge, they must enhance the usability of the knowledge indicators to optimize the decision-making process for the user. These organizations must optimize the use of cartographic visualization in the process. This will not be an easy task, given the range of abilities of the users to use geospatial knowledge – their level of geospatial literacy. The democratization of cartography, making the user the ‘cartographer’, where the user selects what he/she requires for the task at hand, and how to represent it, makes the work of the national mapping organization and other providers of geospatial information even more onerous. It is no longer possible to have standard products, as these will not serve the purpose of the user – each task requirement is different, if it is to be optimized for that task. At the same time, the user is usually not an expert cartographer and may not achieve an optimum result, which may degrade the effectiveness of the decision taken. This is not what is desired and must be avoided if at all possible. Unfortunately, there are many examples of poor cartography displayed through various systems available to the user, which attest to the lack of cartographic knowledge. These systems are a disservice to the users.

Cartography, through the representation of geospatial information, provides a means to achieve the order that is required in dealing with geospatial information. Cartography simplifies the chaos. Not only are facts given but, with cartographic visualization, unknowns are revealed. Also, cartography is efficient and effective in the presentation of the spatial relationships between phenomena or concepts

Understanding of cartographic visualization

A better understanding of cartographic visualization and its role in the cognitive processes, in particular the cognitive map, is essential to optimize the user’s geospatial knowledge, resulting in effective decisions. To start with, there must be good understanding of the relationships between the referent, interpretant and sign-vehicle, as well as the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic dimensions in cartography, to enhance the representation of the geospatial information and knowledge for the specific purpose at hand. Also, the representation must be considered at both the denotational level (denotes meaning – conscious meaning) and the connotational level (connotes meaning – unconscious meaning) from the perspective of the user.

The cartography of the user must take all of these cartographic representation considerations into account. The cartographic visualization will then become application or task specific. For the user-cartographer, this will provide improved cartographic visualization for the specific task at hand, with the intention to provide an optimized effective decision. For the user who does not desire to be the ‘cartographer’, the system will optimize the cartographic visualization based on the parameters of the task.

Much of the geospatial information being used has high temporality, which in itself is relevant to the decisions being made. This includes studying the rate of change in a phenomenon or concept, or monitoring the impact of a policy or a development plan through change in the phenomenon or concept. The representation of the different epochs of geospatial information, or the extent of change in the phenomenon, must be taken into consideration as part of the cartographic visualization for the user.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), with the Age of Insight, will place great emphasis on the use of geospatial knowledge. This will impact on the relevance, and continued existence, of the national mapping organizations and other geospatial information providers in the future. This will require, among other things, efficient and effective cartography in the cognitive processes of creating geospatial knowledge and the representation of knowledge indicators in the decision space.

Author Bio

Derek Clarke currently works as an Advisor to the World Geospatial Industry Council and as an independent Consultant. He has over 40 years of experience in the fields of geospatial information management and geomatics, including 21 years as head of the national mapping organization in South Africa. He holds a PhD in the field of geospatial information science and development planning.