The Transformation Toward “Intelligent GIS”

Jack Dangermond on how Esri is integrating AI across its suite of GIS tools


Jack Dangermond, president and founder of Esri (Booth 439), will participate in a special opening presentation Monday morning at GEOINT 2019 titled, “Digital Natives Empowering the GEOINT Enterprise.” The discussion will feature three tenured geospatial experts (digital immigrants) alongside three junior community members (digital natives).

“Esri is seeing so-called ‘digital natives’ using the tools we are building to help them in a lot of ways,” Dangermond said. “They take to our tools very quickly.”

With the maturation of digital natives—those who grew up connected to the internet—comes a greater appreciation for location-based services and heightened spatial literacy, according to Dangermond. As a result, the company is finding that customers are increasingly interested in more advanced analytics and visualization tools.

“We’re getting a much stronger following that want the tools that allow them to do the next step. It’s growing our community a lot,” Dangermond said. “A lot of the basic training we used to do 15–20 years ago—people have already achieved that level when they walk in.”

Human-Machine Teaming for GIS

What is that next step? Esri is moving toward “Intelligent GIS” enabled by artificial intelligence (AI), integrating the technology throughout its geospatial infrastructure rather than offering it as additional products or services. The company views AI and machine learning as way to advance the value of GIS across organizations and industries, according to Dangermond.

“[Intelligent GIS] enables you to infuse your domain expertise into GIS models and scale them as required and have it working for you, even when you aren’t,” he said.

AI and machine learning are already helping Esri’s approximately 7 million users with feature extraction, change analysis, structured observation management, 3D building footprints, damage assessments, and more.

“We are building a GIS that can also work with machines as consumers, able to integrate and build smarter systems, bringing out the true power of location intelligence to business workflows,” Dangermond said.

New Tools for the IC

Recent technological advancements from Esri are also enabling partners across the Intelligence Community. The company’s IC GIS Portal, based on the ArcGIS platform and created in 2018, is “the foundation for enterprise GIS within the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and across the Intelligence Community,” Dangermond said.

The largest GIS implementation the U.S. federal government has ever fielded, the portal spans 55 agencies and 77,000 users on one network.

In March, Esri introduced ArcGIS Notebooks, a unified data science experience that enables access to the ArcGIS Python API. The new offering creates a bridge between the GIS and data science communities.
“[ArcGIS Notebooks] opens the whole data science world to [GIS], and opens the GIS and mapping community to the world of open data science. … It’s taking the open data science community by surprise,” Dangermond said.

And in April, Esri released ArcGIS Excalibur, a web-based tool for geospatial intelligence analysts that enables semi-automated imagery analysis. Excalibur is ideal for conducting structured observation collection and management as well as feature extraction from multi-spectral imagery, according to Dangermond.

He concluded he is looking forward to attending GEOINT 2019 to meet with Esri’s Intelligence Community users and to gain their feedback on these recent developments.

When asked what’s next for GIS, Dangermond said, “the dynamic geospatial integration of multiple types of intelligence data done by way of web services, and the enrichment of those services with AI, machine learning, and deep learning activities.”


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