My colleague Mark Harrower, who is now at Esri, recently posted a blog story announcing Esri’s entry into what they are calling “smart mapping.”
The term itself is perhaps more interesting than the particulars of the technology Mark is talking about, although these are of course still important to understand. It draws from and wishes to leverage the whole assemblage of “smart” devices such as watches, TVs, cars, Nest thermostats and so on, as well as the rhetoric around smart cities, algorithmic governance, and Big Data.
Just to be clear, smart mapping, as a piece of terminology is not new. There’s a company in the UK with that name which says it has been round for 15 years, and another one called SmartMAP which says it has been around since 1995, part of a GIS company in Delaware.
In Esri’s case, Mark says that the idea is to provide your mapping tools with some capability to assess your data and recommend better ways to represent it:
Unlike ‘dumb’ software defaults that are the same every time, with smart defaults we now offer the right choices at the right time. When we see your data in the map viewer, we analyze it very quickly in a variety of ways so that the choices you see in front of you are driven by the nature of your data, the kind of map you want to create, and the kind of story you want to tell (e.g., I want to show places that are above and below the national average)
I find it interesting, if perhaps inevitable, that companies are appealing to the concept of “smart” mapping. “Making things better with algorithms” could easily be the slogan applied to many companies seeking an edge these days with their “disruptive” (but not too disruptive) innovation.
Perhaps the question is not whether these really are smart, as why we think they are, why we like that, and what effects they will have on mapping practices?