How GIS Has Changed

How GIS Has Changed

GIS has drastically changed from its conception to now. While the technology has always been impactful its reach is much deeper than originally thought.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) was developed in 1964. It was called the Canada Geographic System (CGIS) by Roger Tomlinson but was not released until the 1970s. CGIS was used to store, analyze, and manipulate data for the Canada Land Inventory to determine land capability by mapping soils, agriculture, wildlife, forestry, and land use. The initial developments in CGIS were utilizing map graphics as outputs via line printers, advances in data storage, and recording coordinates as data input. However, what made the program unique was its ability to create maps with layers. For example, having vegetation as one layer on the map and water as another.

In the 1980s, GIS went through the second phase of advancement which was focused on analysis and creating a more user-friendly interface. The ability to sort, select, extract, reclassify, re-project and display data based on geographical, topological, and statistical criteria was made available. In 1982, ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) created ArcInfo which was the first commercially available GIS software on mainframe computers. In 1986, they released ArcInfo for the personal computer. When the first desktop GIS product was first implemented, before the development of Windows, it used the DOS operating system. Users had to manipulate spatial data through programming commands and text files. Today, GIS is much more user-friendly and can use an array of different file extensions.

In the 1990s, the capabilities of technology exploded. Increased computer power and hardware made further advancements for GIS possible. ESRI released a graphical user interface which replaced the command-line interface. The programs analytic capabilities also expanded. For example, it could now incorporate floating point calculations and NULL.

Once location data became available, applications such as Google Maps became possible. Now, GIS is available on mobile devices, has online services, open source mapping, and crowdsourced spatial data. This has opened the doors for Google Maps, solving autonomous vehicle problems, surveillance, and to better showcase spatial-temporal parameters such as demographic information and temporal data.

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Author: Jessica Lort

Valerie Stephen
valeriestephen@geo-tel.com