GIS is geo-spatial computing

Recently, Jack Dangermond sat down for a TED Salon to discuss the world-changing value of Esri’s Web GIS, which he described as a tool that helps people solve problems with geographic data.

Here’s the hook: When he gets to describing how companies and organizations are using Web GIS today, it starts to sound a lot like spatial computing as we know it. In short, companies using GIS are using spatial information as the basis for making calculations, but on a macro scale:

“In the retail sector, people like Starbucks or Walgreens or Walmart, all the big retailers use geographic factors to pick the right location. They look at the demographics, the traffic, and then the large insurance companies and reinsurance companies look at all the different factors that are necessary to understand risk. And they overlay them [on top of the geographic data] and they model them and they visualize high-risk areas or low-risk areas.”

It solves big challenges

Later in the talk, Dangermond notes that GIS can be applied to make better decisions outside of the business world, too. He mentions disaster response (fires, earthquakes, etc), when countries and aid organizations need good geographic information for rescue, response, and recovery.

To drive the point home, he mentions how GIS is already aiding responses to COVID-19.

“And when something like the pandemic happens, or unemployment due to the economy happens, we can look geographically and see these factors all coming together. So it’s like your mind does in many ways. I mean, we built a tool that allows you to abstract reality and see it, and then look at all the relationships between these factors in order to create understanding.”

And it might be our best chance

In fact, says Dangermond, GIS is the best chance we have for responding to the big, complex challenges facing mankind. That’s because it offers a way for individuals and organizations to gather any kind of information, lay it on top of a geospatial data set, and share with one another. He believes this will create a “geospatial nervous system” that will help us to make better decisions in response to complex problems like climate change and decreasing biodiversity.

“Let me give a practical example. The Pacific Gas and Electric corporation, a very large organization here in California, one of the largest utilities in the world, is sharing their outage and utility information over the web with the State of California fire people and emergency management people, so that they can act better and vice versa. So they’re sharing and collaborating through geographic information in whole new ways.”

Check out the video for more