Twenty years of progress: giscience in 2010

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J OURNAL OF S PATIAL I NFORMATION S CIENCE Number 1 (2010), pp. 3–20

doi:10.5311/JOSIS.2010.1.2

I NVITED K EYNOTE A RTICLE

Twenty years of progress: GIScience in 2010
Michael F. Goodchild
Center for Spatial Studies and Department of Geography University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-4060, USA
July 27, 2010

Abstract: It is 20 years since the term “geographic informationscience” was suggested to encompass the set of fundamental research issues that surround GIS. Two decades of GIScience have produced a range of accomplishments, in an expanding literature of research results as well as in the infrastructure of research. Several themes are suggested for future research, based both on gaps in what has been accomplished thus far, and on technology trends that willthemselves raise research questions. Keywords: geographic information science

1

Introduction

2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the coining of the term “geographic information science,” and seems an appropriate opportunity to reflect and review. What progress has been made, what have been the major accomplishments of the field, and what discoveries have been made about the domain ofgeographic information? Another motivation comes from the 20th anniversary of the funding of the US National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis by the National Science Foundation, which was celebrated at an International Symposium on Geographic Information Science, with an emphasis on review and assessment, in Santa Barbara in December 2008 (ncgia.ucsb.edu/projects/isgis/). Any effort toreflect, and to review the vast range of accomplishments of the past 20 years, is inevitably subjective to some degree, reflecting the personal opinions of the author, though comparatively objective sources can be found in the publications and citations of the field, and in the institutions that have emerged. With that in mind, this paper is intended more as a stimulus to others to reflect, and does notpretend to be entirely objective.
c by the author(s) Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
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4

G OODCHILD

The paper is structured in three sections. The first major section describes the beginnings of GIScience, early definitions of the field and efforts to define a research agenda, and the debates and controversies that inevitably followed. The second section reviewsaccomplishments, first and primarily from the perspective of achievements in research, but also through a discussion of institutional developments and broader impacts. The third and last major section looks to the future, and presents a few thoughts about the world of geographic information systems and technologies that is likely to emerge in the next ten years. In addition to its focus on persistent,general, and fundamental theory, the field of GIScience has always been driven to some degree by technology, so future developments will need to be examined from three perspectives: first, what research will be needed to ensure that new developments are feasible; second, what research will new technologies stimulate; and third, what issues of a social or ethical nature will new technologies raise,and how should the research community respond?

2 Beginnings
2.1 GIS: Tool or science?
It is easy to advance a rigorous definition of geographic information: to qualify, a fact must link some property to a location on or near the Earth’s surface, and possibly to a point in time or a time interval; geographic information is simply a collection of such facts. But the notion that there might befundamental issues associated with geographic information, and that these might be studied in a scientific manner, arose only sporadically and in widely scattered fields. Geodesy, for example, requires a systematic and scientifically based approach to the problem of accurately measuring position on a planet that has a complex, non-spherical shape and a similarly complex gravity field; it is easy,...
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