GI-Forum overture

Tonight this year’s GI-Forum was kicked off with an inspiring keynote by André Skupin on knowledge visualization. These are my three key thoughts I took home:

  1. The amount of publications, grants, research projects and the numbers of knowledge/publication retrieval is nothing but enormous. Especially in the domain of life science and medicine André was only talking about millions …
    The scientific output is really big and is steadily getting bigger. André briefly pointed to the fact that the size of the scientific corpus does not necessarily correlates with the amount of knowledge (there’s much overlap and repetition)! I think this is a very important point. Thus it is necessary to find measures not only for the sheer quantity but for the quality of scientific output.
  2. Visualization is a powerful way to manage, explore and analyze such large and often diffuse data sets. Visualization helps to recognize known or expected things, facilitates the discovery of new aspects and often surprises the recipient with completely new insights. I like this condensed summary of the power of visualization because it is transferable to basically any kind of visual representation!
    André’s examples were good ones insofar as the phenomena he visualized are especially hard to grip due to their abstract nature (it’s easier to understand how a church building makes its way on a topographic map etc.).
  3. Geographic concepts – and on top of them concepts from cartography and GIScience – can be successfully applied to non-spatial problems. In this context André often refered to the idea of “Spatialization”. Additionally he pointed to the ability of GI scientist to choose the concept of how to look at something. A lake can be seen as a discrete entity with crisp categorical and geographical boundaries or it can be seen as a rather fuzzy entity with different qualities (e.g. temporally dry lakes, water level fluctuation etc.). The mental flexibility on how to abstract, analyze and visualize complex processes or systems seems to be an asset of geographers, which can be (or probably is) an export hit to other, even non-spatial domains. The keynote itself started at knowledge visualization in science went on to the visual analysis of music and finished with a NYT visualization about football. Great example on how geographic concepts can be transferred!

For those who are curious, here’s an incomplete list of resources André provided:

Three aspects I would have been interested in are the way he scans documents or datasets for his visualization, the regionalization algorithm he applies on his surfaces and his experiences in usability of the visualizations (the last question was partly covered by a cartographer in the discussion).
Anyway, time was strictly restricted for two reasons: cold beer waited at the ice-breaker party and Switzerland played against Argentina in the world cup’s round of sixteen. Poor Switzerland they were really close to a sensation …

Tomorrow will be the first full conference day with the AGIT opening in the morning and many, many interesting sessions and workshops throughout the whole day. See you there physically or on Twitter #GIForum2014 and #AGIT2014.


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