January 11, 2011

GeoDesign Summit 2011

The second GeoDesign Summit hosted by Esri and the University of Redlands has come and gone. The event was characterized by the generous exchange of ideas. These ideas came from smart people with different gifts and strengths. Ideas with real value, and some ideas were even strictly about values. Some of the benefit of the exchange was thinking through bad ideas, battling through conflicting ideas, and celebrating good ideas. Some ideas are at a global scale, some are ideas about technology trends, some ideas are about strategies of implementation. Some ideas were about human values, ethics and happiness, others about databases, chaos theory, butterfly theory and web services.

At the summit I learned about the quantifiable benefits and efficiencies of urban living and was almost convinced that living in a city was my ethical duty, if it were not for my strong preference. I’d rather live in a high-tech tree stump than live in a big city, regardless of how well designed efficient or carbon neutral. I like the idea of everyone else living in a city so I can live on a wild life preserve at the beach, but I am not sure that would be “right” either. I’d rather live next to an idyllic lake; I’d rather live in the lake.

Definitions of Geodesign were offered and some were repeated, but they are themselves more ideas. Putting one idea together with another creates yet another new idea. New ideas are often different ways to ask the question that leads to a new method of solving a new problem. It may look like the old problem but it is not, and neither is the old method useful to solve it.

Quantum advancements of entertainment and movie making and viewing; and distribution of media; and movable type were all used as examples of new modalities that prompt the asking of new questions and methods to solve those questions. New technology enables new ways to look at problems and in-turn new ways to ask questions. Often solutions create new problems/opportunities in the process.

I spent the week thinking about Civil Design and BIM. I see that in the search for a universal digital data model to encapsulate all of reality for geospatial and/or other information systems, the more flexible and inclusive the data structures I employ to abstract the data for digital storage, the more complex the database becomes until I get to the point where the data model is as complex as physical reality.
The argument was repeated at the summit that since the world is 3D, design software should be 3D. I agree, design software should be 3D. I have nothing against the 3rd, 4th or 5Th dimensions. True, the world is 3D, however; when I think about it, the world is also made of molecules and atoms and weird little sub-particles, but that is not necessarily a compelling reason to store quarks in a database.
…Which then leads to the logical conclusion that reality itself is a better more inclusive and flexible data storage container than a digital database. This seems like a dead-end idea unless I consider that accessing and retrieving data from physical reality may just be a viable option in many applications?

With fast connected communication, sensors, radio tagging, scanning and measurement found in Radar, LiDAR, , and other forms of imaging, the digital database model may not be the end-all information repository we thought it had to be. Using digital communication, search, interpretation and pattern recognition focused upon physical reality may in the end be a more practical means to store, retrieve and manage data for many forms of geospatial information. Transactions to and from reality itself may be an easier way to realize many of the hopes and ideas expressed about Geodesign.

Sensors and machine-control will replace SQL. An “ idea”, good or bad? …maybe not an original idea …come to the summit next year and let’s talk about it!
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