Spatial information improves property value and sustains emergency services. But unless you’re up with your latitudes and longitudes you mightn’t think about it too much. For governments, spatial information is both a blessing and a curse. Here are 7 facts about spatial information that the Government doesn’t shout from the rooftops.

1. There is a Chief Geographer, and providing humanitarian aid or going to war wouldn’t be the same without them.

Yes, all governments need one if they want to manage sovereignty. They provide advice about going to war over border security breaches and help governments understand how land is being used. Dr Lee Schwartz, Chief Geographer of the US also heads up the Humanitarian Information Unit, a unique body that is designed to break down stovepipes between federal agencies. They coordinate the dissemination and sharing of critical spatial information with NGO and intergovernmental organizations that do the bulk of first-time response to both rapid onset and complex emergencies. Examples of The Geographer’s role in disaster resilience efforts include the Pacific Tsunami and Haiyan Typhoon, and initiatives such as “Imagery-to-the-Crowd/MapGive” and “ROGUE/GeoSHAPE” that are helping to transform the way governments and nongovernmental organizations collaborate on collecting, curating and sharing geospatial data critical for disaster response.

2. Our real estate values would plummet without a good cadaster system

The land valuation notice that property owners receive each year does more for the economy than provide a benchmark for land tax. It provides reassurance to property owners and guarantors that the property ownership is transparent, by keeping a record of the relevant spatial information. In countries like Greece, where someone else can lay claim to your property if you don’t do anything with it for a few years, properties don’t provide great security for lenders. Imagine how the Monuments Men would have sorted out all of that artwork without Claire’s book?

3. Government policy can’t keep up with spatial technology developments

The speed of disruption is so rapid that our legal and governance frameworks can’t keep up. Legal boffins in the digital rights space concede that intellectual property law can’t readily accommodate co-creation of content or clear delineation of foreground and background intellectual property. It’s up to individuals and companies to defend their own intellectual property, if they can afford the journey.

Globalisation may soon render jurisdictional boundaries irrelevant, as higher proportions of the workforce become multinational and online businesses override traditional geographic footprints. Public access to cheap tools and swathes of spatial data means that critical information can be in the public domain before the government even knows about it. The Queensland Police Service has won several awards for their use of social media because they’ve become exceptionally good at managing this; does their success arise from design, or necessity?

4. Smaller cities might be preferable in the future.

According to the world’s top urbanist Greg Clark, new industries will be dependent on talent. Talent will go where the quality of life is best. He says “by staying smaller, the new world cities avoid some of the problems of the larger congested cities, whilst retaining leadership and specialisation in a few world-class activities.” How can we test his theory? Open data policies are making available all the necessary spatial information to map out how our living patterns are changing.

5. Autonomous cars will cause huge disruption before 2025

While most people (experts included) think the transition to driverless cars will take decades, and be driven by consumer purchases, Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk disagrees, and based on the spatial information that’s currently available, we’re inclined to agree with him. He says that by 2015, 90% of Tesla’s cars will be capable of autonomous driving. Cost will be a driver for rapid adoption. A 2013 study suggested that with 9,000 autonomous vehicles, Uber could provide rides for $0.50/mile in under 36 seconds from the time of booking, replacing every can in New York City. The impacts will be felt across the insurance, parking and rental car industries.

With an estimated 30,000 lives saved due to decreased accidents, healthcare savings might just outweigh the loss of traffic infringement revenue. The environment is a big winner with a massive reduction in the 134 billions of gallons of gasoline used each year in the US alone. And the intel tips that the economy will actually be better off by about $1 trillion a year because of this disruption.

6. Gigabytes are so last decade.

With more than 3 billion people now online, internet traffic is projected to exceed one zettabyte per year by the end of next year. Will spatial information #breaktheinternet? Consider businesses like Euclideon, whose cloud services make short work of sharing massive GIS files. The growth of these types of services will seed more creative information products, increasing bandwidth usage and generating greater demand for storage.

7. Governments don’t need to bug your phone, and could probably do away with referendums.

That’s right, the amount of spatial information freely available in the public domain will soon make these mechanisms so 1950’s. A recent project mapped the 3% of geo-tagged Twitter traffic (which, with the other 97% of Twitter is fully archived by the US Library of Congress) and found that where we are in relation to the people we talk to is generally irrelevant to what we talk about. Big data guru Kalev Leetaru is working on two projects that collectively map the people, locations, organizations, themes, sources, emotions, counts, quotes and events featuring in print, broadcast and web news in over 1000 languages from all corners of the world. Imagine that! A visualization of who’s talking about what, where, when?

Find out more about how spatial information is contributing to our collective future and join the discussion at Pivotal 2015, an international gathering of the world’s brightest minds in spatial technologies, intelligence and big data.

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