69. Jack Dangermond's Geospatial Nervous System


Sometimes the ideas behind technology can be as, if not more, powerful than the technology itself. Now that geospatial information is informing complex geographic decisions across the planet, proponents of the technology are starting to adopt a vocabulary which is more understandable, more human. Literally.

In fact, one well-known Geo, Jack Dangermond, President of Esri, has structured his company's vision using anatomical terminology - as evident in the following:

“Gradually, GIS technology will evolve into a nervous system for our planet where we, on an ongoing basis, measure and encapsulate knowledge, share it, and respond to issues that people care about and that need to be attended to around the world. It will be a framework for communication, decision support, understanding geographic science, and educating our children."


In the above quote, Dangermond demonstrates an unwavering confidence in the potential of the technology which remains to this day and it is one which helps to explain the important role which GIS now plays in today’s world.

In order to understand Jack Dangermond’s way of thinking regarding the similarities between the technology and the human body, one firstly needs to understand what a nervous system is and how it functions. According to Google, a nervous system is: “the network of nerve cells and fibres which transmits nerve impulses between parts of the body.” It is the means through which the body sends, receives and interprets messages and instructions, and it consists of 3 main components: the brain, the spinal cord and the neurons. Our nervous system instructs us breathe, sleep, eat and drink, to sweat and shiver in certain environments, and to flee dangerous situations, and, without it, mankind would not survive.


So how can we possibly compare our bodies with geospatial systems? Well the trick is to focus on the 'systems' aspect. When you think about how increasingly connected our world is becoming and how actions can have far-reaching effects then the geospatial nervous system concept starts to make sense. Considering this, any time a geospatial database schema is designed, a topology ruleset is configured or imagery is captured and analysed then the geospatial nervous system develops. When interoperability standards are adopted, when Spatial Data Infrastructure systems are strengthened and when geographic data is made more widely available then the nervous system truly comes to life.


Jack Dangermond’s geospatial nervous system concept is a revolutionary one which is well supported in today's world. If we can think of the natural and human world as a living multi-dimensional system, just like ourselves, then we can make better decisions and adopt better responses to issues which arise. As well as this, geospatial technology can be used to better understand how the man-made world is “wired” and thus how it can be "re-wired" for the benefit of everyone and everything.

If this isn’t a good enough reason to develop a geospatial nervous system then I don’t know what is.

In anatomical terms: it’s a no-brainer.