7.8 billion human beings live together in uncertain times. Climate Change, seismic geo-political shifts, rising inequality, unemployment, individual rights and an expanding competitive world are some of the many challenges we face. There has never been such unprecedented acceleration in technology-led societal change, nor have there been so many inter-related, complex and pressing global issues.
Over the next decade, six developing 4IR technologies could give us the knowledge needed to manage this uncertainty whilst delivering economic and business growth, enabling not constraining citizens: Artificial Intelligence, 5G and satellite driven networks, sensors and the Internet of Things, autonomous machines, augmented reality, and distributed ledgers. The unifying centrality of data is evident across these technologies, but together these technologies enable us to move to contextualized knowledge, automation and better decision-making at all levels.
Data is not a resource, like oil, but is capital. The value of a business is increasingly linked to its data holdings and ability to exploit them. Evidence-based government decisions rely on knowledge derived from good data and personal decisions are influenced by data used in smartphone applications. The six developing technologies will rapidly grow the capital value of an organizations data over the decade. Conversely, poor data or biased algorithms lead to suboptimal decisions, unsatisfactory experiences and loss in capital value.
With the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) making geolocation ubiquitous, time and place become ever more powerful data attributes to help answer what, where, when, how and why? They contribute to the capital value of data. Consequently, there has been an explosion in geospatial related applications and analytics, often at the confluence of technologies. Uber, for example, used GNSS, networks, smartphone applications, Cloud services and the technology enabled Gig economy to bring a new idea to fruition globally. Geospatial is now everyone’s business.
This should give the geospatial industry a chance to prosper. But, with some notable exceptions, geospatial agencies and industry are minor supporting actors in a world in which geolocated information is central. We could become marginalized as the six technologies of the next decade lead to new business opportunities, new experiences, more disruption. There is no time to ‘watch and see’ where these six developing technologies settle for; they will not settle. Now is the time to transform to join the forthcoming decade of change. Here are three ideas for starters: near-real-time data, knowledge services and partnerships.
Geospatial agencies have long recognized that quality, accuracy, content, currency and trust are value differentiators. Last month, I was walking in the Scottish Highlands to find a major footbridge missing from Great Britain’s national mapping agency some 15 years after Prince Charles had opened it. Sadly, there is no easy way for an enthusiastic amateur to help maintain the national geospatial database, an easy win. More importantly, growing numbers of sensors on platforms from satellites through cars to submersibles, combined with AI and improved networks, should now enable geospatial agencies to deliver automated near-real-time, findable, accessible and interoperable foundation geospatial information and services.
A move to knowledge services is overdue. Meteorological agencies provide both data and knowledge in the form of forecasts. So too can other geospatial agencies and businesses, particularly those capitalizing on Earth Observation. We must assess and satisfy tomorrow’s demanding customer uses too. Ask ourselves the question: “Do our technologies, data or services enable non-biased web-based predictive knowledge on demand by any user in real-time?” I challenge anyone to say “yes”.
The need for partnerships across the geospatial community is pressing, to open doors between the geospatial industry and the six developing technologies, to open new markets and to develop new products. To find the right partnerships, we need to understand the wider digital policy, industry and professional ecosystem, become part of it and leverage it. Equally, we must invite diverse and disruptive thought-leaders into today’s geospatial industry, rather than relying upon our ingrained knowledge.
Where, then, does this leave Spatial Data Infrastructures that have been a geospatial magnet for several decades? It is accepted that they were necessary 20 years ago, but now the Web and networks are the platform, open web standards the guide and advanced analytics the means to turn data into knowledge. It is time for new thinking, for an integrated, collaborative, real-time and predictive geospatial knowledge infrastructure that delivers “the power of where” on the wider digital ecosystem. The six developing 4IR technologies need to be our start-point just as they are for our future competitors and customers.