Back before the age of technology maps were created using complex surveying techniques and firsthand knowledge gathered from explorers and sailors. We have a hard time imagining a world without satellite imagery, cell phones or Google; much of the world up until this point in history have had to do without these amazing systems and have laid the foundations for the things we are able to do today.
As the field of cartography has grown across the centuries humans have found better ways to map the world around them in increasingly complex ways. The major continents, land forms, and much of the Earth has been mapped down to the last detail; scientists have moved on to mapping the sea floor and exploring the deep mysteries of space. Cartography on Earth is still steaming ahead, however; just because most things have been mapped geographically speaking doesn’t mean there isn’t much more we can do with the technology at our fingertips.
GIS has gone from elaborate scanning mechanisms and physically overlaying maps on top of each other to gain perspective on the issue at hand to our current ability to look up any map on the computer and, with a few mouse clicks, change and overlay these maps with hundreds of others to create complex data sets and new information. From a lab at a university to a wildlife preserve in Kenya to a personal laptop being used at home it is free and easy to gain access to any number of GIS operations happening at any given time. A university degree isn’t needed to understand the results or even, in fact, think up an idea and map it out- everyday people might not even realize they are using GIS systems in their day to day routines.
‘The Cloud’ services that are able to run and host a variety of services are now working with GIS to give users a system in which they have to simply log into a server on the internet without having to download an entire GIS program to their computers. Some clouds are public and others are private, but none require the hassle of a physical storage location to use. The ArcGIS10 was recently released by Esri, a company on the forefront of GIS technology. The emphasis being put on ‘crowdsourced’ data (data gathered on GIS systems by non-trained users) is increasing as the interest in GIS grows among common internet users. Although crowdsourced data can occasionally be unreliable and hard to visually map, it is possible that the large amount of users on a GIS would be beneficial to the data set overall. The amount of data, software, and GIS storage that is able to be shared with the public as well as other related companies is also advancing GIS technology at an incredible rate.
Another advance in GIS is its relationship with GPS systems- GIS provides realistic, on the ground data that GPS uses to inform its users of where they are and things to look for around them. This technology will only grow increasingly better as both GPS and GIS continue expanding in their own fields and together. 3D displays and the ability to overlay 3D maps on top of one another are now not uncommon- the next step is 4D, which adds the dimension of time to the equation. GIS already has the ability to adjust to changes in time with multiple map layers that show geographical change in regards to time; it should therefore be theoretically possible to predict what will happen in the future by added predictive modeling features to the system. Future GIS systems will be able to address conflicting land uses (such as a piece of land being designated both as a wildlife preserve and timberland for logging) and propose solutions regarding the most beneficial use of the tracts.
The uses, benefits and potential possibilities in GIS are many. Right now we are seeing an unprecedented leap in our technological ability to store data on the internet, bring together a massive audience to view and interact with GIS data, and to solve problems (both technical and social) using these programs. Keep an eye out for more GIS innovations!
GIS in a changing world. Dangermond, Jack. 2010. http://www.esri.com/news/arcnews/summer10articles/gis-in-changing-world.html
GIS Technology Trends in Scanning and Plotting: What’s New and What’s Next. Sheldon, Michelle. August 21, 2007. http://www.directionsmag.com/articles/gis-technology-trends-in-scanning-and-plotting-whats-new-and-whats-next/122854
GIS Evolution and Future Trends. GeoWorld. 2006. http://www.innovativegis.com/basis/mapanalysis/Topic27/Topic27.htm