I love geographic information systems! The creativity in map design, the science of spatial analysis, and the cross-industry power are amazing.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine about the future of GIS. We got talking about artificial intelligence (AI), (which I like called “Matrix optimization” at this point), brain implants, extremely high-resolution live satellite coverage, miniature bug drones, brain implants, and even Aliens?!
I pointed out that AI and machine learning (ML) is not the future, it is the now. Same with drones (maybe not minuter bug-sized ones), and the same with live satellite coverage.
I wanted to think about the FUTURE, future.
We tried to think about what the “FUTURE” really meant. 10 years? 20? 50? How about 100 years into the future? What would GIS (and the world for that matter) look like in 100 years?
There have always been predictions about what the future was going to hold. In the early 1900’s there were movies about space travel or fantastical technologies like “A Trip to the Moon” and “Metropolis”. More fanciful than reality, sometimes dystopian, but very imaginative.
Star Trek from the 1960’s made massive predictions about the future including portable communication devices, such as the communicator which mirrors the mobile phones of today. There are even movies made from the late twentieth century, like the classic “Blade Runner” set in 2019 with off-world space travel, replicants (artificial humans), and flying cars.
The strangest one that blows my mind is the near-universal NON-prediction of the internet. No major sci writer, prior to the actual rise of the internet, predicted the internet. Azimov had “electronic libraries”, but not a massive communication network.
Antibiotics, the miracle medicine that combats bacteria infections, was not fully realized until 1928… which is not quite 100 years ago at this point. Think about this, people died back then from infected cuts. Yes, that can still happen today, but nowhere near as bad as it was.
This brings me to GIS 100 years from now. I am not concerned about the technology… but how GIS is going to be used. My friend and I came up with the following:
This is inevitable in a world that is getting richer, or at least more people are being lifted out of poverty. This means more education, more money… and fewer children. The richer and more educated women are, the fewer children they have. This means that, with a richer world population, the overall population will reach a peak in 2050 and most likely decline in 2100.
How does this affect GIS? Areas once allocated to food production will return wild. Suburbs of houses will be unfilled, and vast expanses of commercial zones left empty. GIS will have to address unnatural open spaces, access environmental risks in these spaces, and help understand what to do with them.
Autonomous transportation and supply train.
I would bet this happens sooner than 100 years. Massive systems will be in place to coordinate thousands of autonomous vehicles on roads, in the air, on rail and by the sea… and space?! GIS and machine learning will be absolutely essential for coordinating the flow of products, and people.
Human drivers will simply be too dangerous and slow. The statistics will be obvious, humans are the dangerous weak link when it comes to driving and navigation. In fact, driving is the most dangerous thing you do every day.
There will be a time when your few great-grandchildren (if you have any at all… see point 1), will look wide-eyed in amazement at how you tell tales of actually driving a car and just how dangerous it was.
GIS will ensure maximum safety, and maximum efficiency, and aid in maximum job loss… which brings us to the next and last prediction for GIS.
Cave Men With Robots… Art, Craft, Emotion
100 years from now, automation will have eliminated most low-skill, low-cognitive, and high-risk jobs. Driving will be the first to go as ML and GIS makes roads safer. Followed by low-skill jobs like fast food workers, cashiers, office workers, and manufacturing whose jobs are already disappearing.
The more technology takes over, the more human we have to become. The more we have to return to who we are as humans. We must harness our bodies by engaging in physical activity, we must embrace our emotions, and search for meaning in the labour of our hands.
How does GIS fit in this?
GIS will remain a powerful art and craft. Imagination and emotion can be put in maps. Perhaps it will be on a smaller scale, say individual gardens. It could also revert to hand-drawn maps as a craft valued by other humans.
GIS in 100 years will be vastly different than it is today. Technology will change, but humans will stay the same. Emotion is what we will need to harness in 100 years and beyond.
Note I didn’t include “climate change” here. Why? In the early 1900’s cities had a massive problem that threatened the health of millions of people.
It wasn’t climate change, it was a “Horse Poo and carcass” problem. Horses were the main form of transportation, pooed constantly, died often and were left on the roads to rot.
Streets ran brown with horse poo attracting flies and other pests. Dead horses were left to rot until they could be moved. When the poo dried, it created horrible clouds of dust.
In fact, in 1898, it was predicted that big cities would be buried in horse poo within 50 years.
Did this happen? No. A technology called the “Automobile” came along and changed everything.
Any predictions about the horse poo and carcase problem were gone, and no one could predict the problems automobiles would bring.
In my humble opinion, “climate change” is one of those eventually to be a non-issue with the advance of technology.
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