# Will We Be a Billion Times More Geospatially Intelligent in Thirty Years?

December 27, 2010  -

I recently read an article in the December 6, 2010, issue of Time magazine. Futurist Ray Kurzweil was asked the following question:

“Is it a mistake to use the events of the recent past as a method of predicting the future?”

His answer has me reconsidering my thoughts about the future of geospatial technology.

Essentially, his idea is that we tend to think linearly when thinking about the growth of technology, or geospatial technology in our case. In his example, if you take 30 steps forward, you will end up at 30. Extending that logic, if we take one step each year for 30 years, we will end up 30 steps more advanced than we are today, in the year 2040.

Not true, says Kurweil.

He says the reality is that technology is moving forward exponentially, rather than linearly.

What’s the difference? Take a look at this chart from Wikipedia:

Red = Linear Growth, Blue = Cubic Growth, Green = Exponential Growth (Source: Wikipedia)

Exponential growth means that geospatial technology will not be 30 steps ahead in 30 years, but rather a billion steps ahead in 30 years! That number is inconceivable to most people, including myself. Referencing the graphic above, at step 9, exponential growth begins to skyrocket after perculating slowly for the first 6 steps.

Recall the question that may have been posed to you as a child.

“Would you take \$1,000,000 or a salary that started at one penny per day and doubled every day for 30 days?”

Believe it or not, your salary for the day on Day 30 of the latter scheme would be \$5,368,709.12. It’s a mind-numbing figure.

Now, apply similar logic to the growth of geospatial technology over the next 30 years. Booya!

#### Sensor Integration

The development and integration of microelectronic sensors is going to be huge in the next few years, not to mention the next 30 years.

Just today, Freescale introduced a microelectronic chip that is essentially a digital compass. It was designed to be integrated into mobile devices (smartphones, GPS navigators, etc.) to enable navigating in places where GPS doesn’t work well, or at all.

We are only at the beginning of a huge wave of microelectronic sensors to come. Reference the Time magazine article again. Ray Kurzweil predicts that computers will be come small enough that we will be able to embed them in our bodies to enable us to be healthier and smarter. There’s a tremendous opportunity to improve our health. But to some of you, actually most of you (including me), the thought of having a computer, or more than one, embedded in my body is a very uncomfortable thought.

I can think of a bazillion different microelectronic sensors that have been developed, are being developed, or will be developed. Temperature, moisture/humidity, motion/acceleration, white blood cell count, light, color, distance, etc. The list is endless. However, a common theme among all the sensors I can think of is the geospatial component. Location is an important reference for every sensor. That’s undeniable.

Transportation

Thinking in terms of transportation, it’s easy to see the future. In fact, the technology already exists today to make automobile and aviation transportation significantly more safe.

I tell my kids that cars of the future will have laser rangefinders, GPS receivers, accelerometers, and fogline sensors built in. It will be impossible to cause an accident by falling asleep at the wheel or because you’re intoxicated or otherwise distracted. Laser rangefinders can monitor the distance from all surrounding vehicles and other obstacles. Another sensor will monitor the fog line (the white stripe along the shoulder of the road) and the lane stripes. Yes, you will still be driving and in control of the vehicle, but you will have technology helping you stay safe. Traffic accidents will decrease tremendously. The 6 o’clock news will have to find something else to talk about besides the five-car pile-up on the Interstate highway. There is nothing more clear to me than the benefits of sensors and geospatial technology in the transportation world.

Last summer I saw a presentation from General Motors on the Chevrolet Volt. Think about it — Volt owners will be able to check their tire pressure from their mobile phone.

I could write for a year on the subject of sensors and geospatial technology (and I will). It’s going to be thrilling to watch the technology progress. Forget about thinking of geospatial technology being a billion times more advanced than it is today. Just try to think of it being a million times more advanced than it is today. That’s enough to keep your mind busy while you’re taking a shower, for years to come.

Thanks, and see you next week.