Last year, I spoke to Charles Trimble at the Geospatial World Forum (GWF) for a brief interview, and he said something that stuck with me. It wasn't necessarily a new fact about the evolution of geospatial tech, or even a personal viewpoint - but more of his way of seeing the world. When asked if he knew that the development of commercial GPS would be world-changing when he set out to do it, he laughed, and said "absolutely not."
He went on to explain that whenever we look back at history, we can sometimes see a very clear throughline; a leads to b, b leads to c, and so on. But when you're at the beginning of that line, it's never that clear. Any particular technology is only one point with infinite possibilities - it takes more than one point to make a line.
When I think about what this means for today's technology to understand the built and natural world, I am struck by the same feeling. Analysts love to ask whether a certain technology will alter the course and direction of history, or try to predict which way that straight line is pointing towards the future. But the day-to-day reality of it is that we can't see that far ahead. What we can see are the technologies that are bringing our goals closer in line with each other - benefitting the environment, increasing productivity, lessening waste, helping workers do their jobs more quickly and in safer conditions and opening up ways of seeing we have never been able to see before.
At Geo Week, we’re bringing together the companies that are developing technologies that help us to better understand the world - from sub-millimeter accurate laser scanners to visualization software that can help immerse us in digital copies of the real world, and positioning technology that can anchor data in place. These technologies across the exhibit floor are related to the goal of helping to get a better understanding of the world around us and to help us to do more work in the most efficient way possible, and keep an eye on critical processes even if we can’t be there physically. Will one of these companies be “the next big thing” - or will the technologies that they are developing usher in a new digital era because of all of their contributions?
As an attendee of Geo Week, I encourage you to take a walk through the exhibit hall at least once at a slow, dream-like pace, allowing yourself to imagine what the next 5, 10 or 50 years could bring in the geospatial industry, and what we’ll be saying was the “start of it all.” Though it might not be obvious now, in a few years you might look back on something that caught your attention.
I can't wait to see what this year brings.