Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Rethinking GIS

Sambo sivam, jagame thandiram.
The deregulation of Indian geospatial data sector may have opened opportunities for some leeway in India’s strategic framework, though of course slight reorientations maybe required at comfortable places. The strategic security outlook over GIS still has some traces of the older days of Bhaskar and Rohini satellites where data handling rate used to be in few kilobytes. It maybe somewhat questionable to some, but we need to put the GIS’ software and hardware infrastructure at the very centre of a technology centric foreign policy and not at the peripheries of a shy and reticent overture towards being a global power. 
Some key recommendations:

  • Build regional cooperation over co-developing GIS assets and regional mapping capabilities, this would go a long way in redefining the nature of our neighbourhood.
  • Inter-governmental programs around GIS thus would also take own geography into account, meaning enhanced regional outreach of developmental programs using access, interoperability, and portability centric solutions.
  • We have to develop a horizontal and non-hierarchical work ethic in the organisations tasked with radical technical innovation, especially in the satellites-sensors-software triangle. It has worked wonders for many, it will be good for us too.
  • In the spirit of previous point, we need to create and globally promote open-ended and open-access GIS technology designs and standards. This cannot be done without seamless cooperation with academia and industry.
  • Again, in the spirit of previous point, the government needs to jointly develop a framework with the academia and GIS industry to enable them to independently pursue joint R&D goals with their counterparts in other countries.
  • We need to formulate a national data standardisation policy, which includes geo-tagging of all data objects in commercial as well as government sector. This way the existing information infrastructure can be easily transformed into a GIS based developmental and strategic platform.
  • Related to above point over standardisation, there should be a single source of “analysis ready” GIS data which can cut down painstaking data preparation, standardisation and fusion pipeline on the user side. Perhaps a cloud-native ML based geospatial processing service could help monitor and facilitate the whole thing.  
  • Whatever it takes, including stealthy reverse engineering or building edge AI capabilities into orbital platforms, we’ve to aggressively push Indian GIS capabilities to a level where it can be turned into a non-negotiable aspect of any joint space missions. 

Today the information acquisition costs are relatively democratised, what is wanting is the capacity building to augment the existing service based industries with earth observation. That would not only provide the impetus for the creation of a homegrown Indian earth observation industry, but also enable the strategic thinking to integrate the vagaries and vulnerabilities of our existence and its environment into how we run our geopolitics and strategic security.

Afterall the slowly evolving physical infrastructure of the internet, along with GIS assets on space and ground, and technologies like Artificial Intelligence – are forming the landscape of a new kind of territory where the pecking order has not yet been fully established. And therefore constructing India’s strategic interests as firmly embedded into the machine needs to go from perhaps an engineering problem to a political solution.

1 comment:

  1. A good example of 'analysis-ready' data is provided by the readily-available geopackages produced by the Quantartica project. A complete set of GIS data is packaged together in a geopackage, which can be opened in any serious GIS software.