Soft AI (artificial intelligence) and Spatial Technologies

As the Wall Street Journal has stated yesterday, “‘Soft’ Artificial Intelligence is Suddenly Everywhere”  Also called weak or narrow AI, soft artificial intelligence is the ability of a computer or other machine to perform complex activities that are “inspired by but don’t mimic, the human brian”.   The media coverage of soft AI, like coverage of many new technologies, focuses on computer science and engineering, but many of the technologies they use as examples, from satellites, cars, wearable technologies, to encompassing city systems and space travel, are in fact geospatial technologies.  openshaw_ai Continue reading “Soft AI (artificial intelligence) and Spatial Technologies”

NASA, Big Data, and a Real World Jigsaw Puzzle

NASA has posted two news items that illustrate the large amounts of data that they are generating. NASA| The Data Downpour is a  video describing how the GPM constellation turns observed radiances and reflectivities of global precipitation – falling snow and rain – into data products.  They detail this huge task in “GPM Mission’s How-to Guide for Making Global Rain Maps“. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight CenterPrecipitation Processing System (Greenbelt, Maryland)  is tasked with compiling remote sensing data from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.  The  data set will eventually become one unified global data set.  A simplified version of a very exacting process, as any geospatial professional will tell you. Continue reading “NASA, Big Data, and a Real World Jigsaw Puzzle”

Geospatial Education and Interactive White Boards

Recently, I have been developing a tutorial for using electronic white boards for education. What I never noticed before, because they work so well together, is the symbiotic relationship between the use of electronic white boards and geospatial technologies. In an ENO by Polyvision demonstration, today’s modern classroom (of 4 years ago) includes a Google Earth based geography lesson. Other demonstrations include the use of Google Sketchup on an Eno Board.  A short video from Bayside Secondary in Ontario demonstrates the geography classroom of today using iPad apps and a Smartboard in a geography exercise. Interactive white boards are a natural fit for geography because of the creation of interactive wall maps by many former static map publishers, such as those developed by KIDS Interactive or StrataLogica NECC. According to ESRI’s educational model for building geospatial proficiency, presentation is the first rung in developing geospatial literacy. A conference paper on the “Place of the interactive whiteboard in higher education of the Polish educational system” specifically discusses its use in teaching GIS and spatial literacy.

However, the integration of geography, GIS, and electronic whiteboards doesn’t stop at K-12 education. At the GIS Conference 2012: Logica/CGI demonstrate their collaboration between ArcGIS and SMART Board that can be used with ArcGIS Online. The Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency in Tennessee likes to use a a Smartboard in conjunction with their GIS, in order to all be “on the same page”. I think I am so used to thinking of collaborative GIS as being done on a horizontal touch screen or table top device, like the TouchTableweTable, and other multi-touch environments, that I overlooked the power of the humble interactive white board.

What is Your Real Geospatial Age?

By now almost everyone with a computer and some spare time has taken the Harvard Mouse Click Age Test, which tries to determine a person’s age by how proficient they are at using a computer mouse. I personally scored about 15 years younger than my real age making me almost a teenager again, so thank you: 1. Harvard, and 2. geospatial computing.   A younger “computer age” might not have the same impact on a person’s quality of life as the results of The Real Age health assessment test, but it can often have an impact on your career.

Keeping up with new technology has always been a challenge in the job world, but today’s employee is faced with the intersecting need to keep up with the huge growth and changing type of technologies, the use of these technologies following them outside of work, the cost associated with the technologies and training, and many other factors. Several recent Wall Street Journal articles highlight the influence of social media, cloud computing, mobile recruiting, and other new technologies in finding and keeping a job, such as the increased use of smart phone apps for advertising and filling out applications. Many of these technologies have geospatial underpinnings that drive the technology. In addition, over the past few years the number of professions using  GIS, remote sensing, and other geospatial technologies  in their work on a routine basis is rapidly expanding.  Careers such as facilities management, utilities, weather, municipal government, and a myriad others. Larry Wall blogged about how he thought that retiring from the oil & gas industry would mean he no longer had to keep up with technology, found that even part time jobs at the mall requires knowing how to use the latest devises.

Despite the ability to keep up with technology, age discrimination is a very real problem, even if there is no skills gap.  The Statesman.com newspaper has a insightful article, “Older Workers Without Jobs Face Uphill Climb“, about the technology job scene in Austin that describes the situation faced by older IT workers.  However, although HR departments often confuse professionals who work with geospatial data with IT workers, it is a different profession that involves complex skill sets that are both art and science.  Many times this is developed over years of education, experience, and continued training. The geospatial workforce shortage that was explored as early as a 2005/2006 ESRI ArcNews Online article on “Defining the Components of the Geospatial Workforce – Who Are We?” and continues in reports such as The National Academies Press “Future U.S. Workforce for Geospatial Intelligence” and Geospatial Today’s “The Who’s Who in the Geospatial Sector Share Their Views on How The Industry Will Unfold in the Days To Come… Outlook 2013” which highlights the need for geospatial professionals across fields that are able to think dynamically and adapt quickly.

It would be interesting to find out if geospatial professionals were quicker “on the draw” or on the click, than other professions thanks to using ArcGIS and other geospatial software.

The ZSL London Zoo

The ZSL London Zoo‘s annual census of every zoo animal as part of their zoo license renewal is an example of how to turn a seemingly routine geospatial task into international news. The media and public discuss the event in a way that evokes the celebration of an annual holiday like Ground Hog’s day. While the zoo keepers use clipboards to count each animal in the field,  it is logged into the International Species Information System (ISIS) software to manage international breeding programs for endangered animals from zoos around the world.  ZSL London Zoo participates in breeding programs for 130 species. An interactive map on the ZSL London Zoo website gives visitors an idea of the animals being counted during the census. It is a great way to highlight the work of everyone involved and introduce them to aspects of zoo management beyond watching animals.

The Zoological Society of London opened the London Zoo as the world’s first scientific zoo in 1828 and continues to add new technology, innovations, and discoveries as they develop.They award a scientific medal, like the one awarded to Prof. Simon Hay for his work investigating the spatial and temporal aspects of mosquito born disease epidemiology and manages the Malaria Atlas Project to improve cartography of malaria.  It is one of several different divisions that fall under the Zoological Society’s umbrella including the Whipsnade Zoo and the ZSL Institute of Zoology. The Zoological Society utilizes geospatial professionals in capacities from Dr. Chris Yesson‘s work on phyloclimatic modeling and classes in GIS to field scientists using remote sensing data donated by GeoEye for gorilla conservation. The ZSL created the EDGE Evolutionary Distinct & Globally Endangered program as a global conservation effort to protect species with unique evolutionary history using Google Earth to create awareness and interest. The ZSL encourages partnerships, collaborations, and opportunities for citizen science and volunteers on their website.

Forensic GIS: A Fast Growing Profession and CFP

The geospatial methods and technologies used in Forensic GIS are finally catching up to popular depictions in movies and television. Although most of the analysis done on shows like CSI is footwork done by geospatial professionals and not solely by a near omnipotent computer program. I have often debated the impact of the large number of forensic procedurals in popular T.V.,  movies, and books.  Mainly because the word GIS and mapping never seems to be used, even though that is the method being demonstrated. However, that will probably change considering the integration of Forensic GIS into the everyday practices around the world.

Forensic GIS has been used for many years in crime mapping around the world. Companies such as CSIR in New Zealand have used GIS and cell phone data to provide forensic evidence for criminal cases. GIS is used in every part of the investigation process creating jobs in the public, private, and university sectors. New jobs like GIS Analysis Expert Witness support for litigation have been created for companies like Digital Data Service or Geographic Resource Solutions which provides wildfire litigation. Other facets of forensic GIS include fraud dection, crime scene data , geospatial modeling in civil law suits, accident simulation, and for agency collaboration.

According to American Sentinel University, GIS and geospatial skills are a critical part of forensic science education today.  Many of these programs are offered at all levels of education from certificate programs to undergraduate, masters, and Ph. D.  It has led to innovation that serves the needs of forensic analysists in a unique way.  The Ohio State University Police Division used GIS mapping software to detect patterns inside human bones. Fellowships also exist for established professionals such as the  The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory, which provides a five course fellowship to assist in excavation and identification in Laos or Vietnam.  If you watch the  popular T.V. show Bones, this is the program that the main forensic scientist was involved in helping.  The U.S. Department of Justice and Crime Mapping Research Center provide an online Mapping Crime: Principle and Practice Book, which explains crime mapping from context, to methods, application, and ethics for law enforcement and others.

One of the ways to build up credibility and make it into the public and professional consciousness is to provide case studies of the real day to day work done by GIS professionals and any other type of GIS professional in the field. Many times people in the field think that calls for papers, book chapters, conferences, and journals are only for academics or journalists, however these same publications often have a hard time finding examples of real world projects to discuss. The same is true of other media such as television and online newspapers, who contact professionals and organizations that are visible. One of the most permanent ways to increase visibility and credibility is to publish in some format – editorials, blogs, conference papers, professional journals, popular press, and of course textbooks in the field.

If you are one of the many public, private, or academic professionals involved in the growing field of forensic GIS, there is a call for chapter proposals and chapter section contributions that can be considered for inclusion in the book at Forensic GIS: The Role of Geospatial Technologies for Investigating Crime and Providing Evidence, which is scheduled to be published by Springer in its popular Geotechnologies and the Environment series. The deadline is Friday, December 14, 2012.  Forensic GIS the profession is catching up to the popular perception of Forensic GIS the T.V. profession, share your real world applications and experiences with the next generation of Forensic GIS students.

Sim City 5 – Virtual cities like you’ve never seen them before

When I saw the E3 trailer for the next installment of Sim City, due in February 2013, my first thought was – this would be great for an Urban Geography class….or a class on sustainable development…..or a class on government….or a, well you get the picture. Just the short preview that Sim City’s developer released shows a revamped engine for Sim City 5 with nice graphics, physics systems that bump up the realism, and simulation models that really let you see the consequences of your choices in building and managing your virtual cities. For anybody out there who still doesn’t think that the gaming industry has anything to contribute to education or exploring and solving real-world problems, watch this trailer:

Watch Dogs – Hacking the virtual city

Every year, the gaming industry teases us with the latest and greatest in new games and technology at shows around the world. One of the biggest shows, E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) recently gave us a couple of previews that really wowed. The first, Watch Dogs, is by major game studio Ubisoft, and explores the implications of controlling all aspects of city functions, sensor networks, and even monitoring the inhabitants’ personal technology footprint through a single operating system, a “City OS”, and what would happen if someone had the skills to hack that system. The short preview of the game from E3 showcases stunning graphics and real-time movement, and shows that not only can the gaming world be a great source of inspiration and technology for geospatial applications of 3D and real-time modeling, but the stories played out in games can also explore the questions that arise from implementing this technology. Take a look at the preview here:

Grapheur

Grapheur is a new business intelligence and visualization tool that includes an easy to use geovisualization function. It has a free trial, but the software itself isn’t free. I was a little dubious at first at a software company that claims its software is “Sexy: Use space, time, color, shapes, blinking, sweeps, synchronization… for amazing results.” However, the amazing graphics it produces are in fact just that. Plus, most of those descriptors also describe geospatial science in general so who am I to complain?

They have a Doubting Thomas tab for people who are having trouble visualizing their data in the free trial. You can send them the data and they will do a free basic analysis and walk you through the steps. Their geovisualization capabilities aren’t as robust as ESRI or other GIS software but that might change if more people find it useful for geospatial work.