Friday, February 22, 2008

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Update: Kevin's Take:

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Enviromental Systems Research Institute, created by Jack Dangermond nearly forty years ago,
possesses and disseminates the most cartographical knowledge. Jack’s software and cyberware
shape how the world is viewed and its future predicted. Now a half-billion dollar plus business, ESRI innovations have mapped nearly every inch on earth and lots of (outer) space. On Feb. 20 the geo-data company sponsored its annual convention in DC with 2500 attendees.

Jack’s inventions and collaborations create maps with infinite and intricate social, political,
cultural, and ecological informations, past, present, and future. From tracking gang activity to
monitoring industrial-waste cleanup sites, there’s no-one, nowhere, and/or nothing to hide.

Jack’s two-hour plenary presentation kicked-off the conference, custumarily welcoming,
thanking, and many “shout(ing) outs.” Happy days, good times these. But several times
Jack breaks, and alludes to planet peril and the dark side of globalization. Stammering, he
pulls his hair, and wishes there were more he could do to help. Earth stewardship isn’t easy.
We can guess he already recycles his trash, composts his garbage, and has changed his light bulbs. Jack wants to go green at the same all-encompassing scale as his cyber-cartography, but how?

Jack’s geo-data laid bare mankind’s unsustainable folly and its clever unwavering ability
to consume itself plus nature. Jack charted life so long he knows change must come. It’s
right there on the map! What can he do to keep things positive? It it too late already? He
has seen enough. He knows too much. He’s certain he cannot map chaos.

Mapping Disasters, Climate Change, Street Gang Activity and Beyond

ESRI Federal User Conference
Environmental Systems Research Institute
Feb. 20-22, 2008
Washington D.C. Convention Center

Jack Dangermond is an example of a socially conscious business leader who advocates using his company’s innovations for public good and also challenges himself to make a difference. For example, reducing our toll as individuals and collectively on the ecosystem.

Dangermond’s earnestness shone as he welcomed fellow technophiles to the ESRI Federal User Conference in Washington D.C. this week. Dongermond is the president of the Environmental Systems Research Institute [ESRI], which specializes in GIS – Geographic Information Systems. Applications from disease tracking to reallocating resources, mapping habitat destruction, monitoring climate change impact, and decision support for emergency situations – from devastating storms to ethnic conflicts to war.

If GIS doesn’t ring a bell, be assured it has a place in everyday life:

* Medical cartography: GIS provides crucial evidence for health care planning. For example, that freeway pollution elevated incidence of chronic disease in communities, and that avian flu was spread *not* by flying birds but rather, by bird-traders who sold poultry for food. By the way, presenter and ESRI expert Bill Davenhall noted that the most popular Google search topic is health.

* Tuning into the doppler-driven weather report.

* Googling maps technology to find a new place to live, narrowing down those Craiglist’d choices via mash-ups for proximity to your office, favorite food store, and a scenic, safe place to jog or walk the dog.

* Guiding life-and-death search missions. It will be deployed in security at the presidential conventions, and for humanitarian emergencies, for identifying the best transportation routes for speeding relief supplies and relocating communities.

Take-home point: While technology and talents are generally targeted for economic benefits, we should each fit in time to find ways to use them for bettering the world we’ve inherited.

NatureServe: a nonprofit organization that produces research serving as a scientific basis for effective conservation action. The information is used for bringing attention to rare and endangered species and threatened ecosystems – special interest groups without a voice.

Land Change Modeler for ArcGIS: software for analyyzing and predicting land cover change and assessing the impact of such changes on biodiversity. Important when mankind’s ambition and appetites increasingly destroy animal habitat, threaten individual animals and whole species, eliminate plant life faster than it can regrow, and reduce arable land for agriculture.

Example: Natural Rescue Management – one session addressed the utility of GIS for Bolivia, where rapid economic development has led to degradation of foerest, under attack by all sides: government, farmers and businesses within and outside the nation.

Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network: tools for better management of coastal and marine environments. Tools can be used for initiatives such as: hazard assessment and resiliency use, urban planning and smart growth ... stakeholder engagement (ie trying to get people to care).

Dangermond left attendees with a closing thought: A vision of “Geography for everyone.”. Successful organizations tend to be those that are open and interoperable; open societies prove the same point. “Open standards in respect to our knowledge of the planet will be vital to our survival as a species.”