50. Geospatial Friday - Is Artificial Geospatial Intelligence the Next Big Thing?


The recently announced Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society is a new technology industry consortium whose founding members include Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and IBM. The partnership is focused on developing best practices for AI systems and on raising public awareness about this new technological realm. According to one information source the partnership will:

“conduct research, recommend best practices, and publish research under an open license in areas such as ethics, fairness and inclusivity; transparency, privacy, and interoperability; collaboration between people and AI systems; and the trustworthiness, reliability and robustness of the technology”.

In such a fiercely competitive industry the partnership represents a consensus that AI is about more than just one company and that collaboration and idea sharing is of key importance. The team are, just as was done in the Stargate TV series, travelling into this new and uncertain dimension together.


However, fortunately for them, these companies have a geospatial presence in their midst which will provide some much needed guidance and direction. Geospatial technology is now well integrated within these companies and will help AI systems to better connect the why, how, what and who questions with the where answers.

Consider some of the geospatial advances by these companies in recent times.

Amazon is currently developing its Prime Air system which will aim to deliver packages to customers using unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. drones). The sense and avoid technology will be incorporated with navigational information and systems in order to ensure that drones use 'common sense' when deciding where to fly and where to land. As one Amazon representative stated:

“A swimming pool may be a perfectly flat landing spot from a geometric point of view, but not exactly where we want our drones delivering packages!"

Earlier this year Facebook announced that it will be using artificial intelligence software to scan billions of satellite images in order to build a better global map of human settlements. While the main purpose of this activity for Facebook is to identify areas which lack internet connectivity there are suggestions that this technology could be used to assist with socio-economic research and risk assessment for natural disasters.


In terms of Google’s AI and geospatial activity, the company recently open sourced TensorFlow, the AI engine that drives its core services such the routing API used by Google Maps. Earlier this year it also launched Driving Mode for Google Maps on Android - an AI application which makes driving and navigation a lot easier through predictive analysis and alerting tools.

IBM has been making forays into the geospatial world through its recent partnership with Mapbox. This move is an attempt to integrate geospatial analytics with Watson - the technology platform that uses AI to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data. This could possibly be integrated into IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge which aims to help cities around the world address their most critical challenges.

Finally, Microsoft recently merged it’s Cortana and Research division with Bing as part of the tech giant’s efforts to embed AI into agents, applications, services, and infrastructure.


Now that these company's are all cosy together and busy imagining the future of Artificial Intelligence the key focus should be on ensuring that everyone benefits from it. The tech industry has adopted the best elements of geospatial technology through the above mentioned initiatives. The key question now is:

"How should Geospatial and AI, two very distinct areas, continue on a great friendship?"

[UPDATE] It's fair to say that there could be countless updates to this post and there are many more companies doing some interesting work in area where AI and geospatial overlap.

So in the interests of geospatial fairness, it's worth mentioning that Esri Maps can be integrated with IBM Cognos for business intelligence analytics. Similarly, it was recently announced that Microsoft, one of Esri's long standing partners, is integrating ArcGIS functionality into its Power BI suite.

Pitney Bowes is also heavily involved in the world of AI algorithms which the vendor uses to drive it's logistics business. According to one site the AI technology is integrated with IBM's Bluemix platform. Pitney Bowes has also done a lot of work with Facebook in the AI realm particularly in the area of providing it's Geocoding Engine to the social media giant.

Finally, in case anyone is worried that the open source community is being left behind then fear not. OpenStreetMap is making some big inroads into the AI domain particularly in the area of satellite analysis and unmanned transport systems. Just have a look at the following post on the recently announced Coaster car– the first product from Phaethon, the OpenStreetMap driverless car project.

Again, this post could go on forever so if you would like to share some other updates then please do so in the comments section!