An Interview With Jack Dangermond

Jack Dangermond was first interviewed by Professional Surveyor in 1989. An article written by Dangermond appeared in 1992, and a second interview took place in 1994. A brief review of those earlier conversations proves that all of the developments he predicted have either come to pass, or are in the process of being created. In 1989, for example, Dangermond stated that he believed surveyors should play a vital role in GIS because of their intimate knowledge of the land. This holds true today. At that time Dangermond was encouraging surveyors to use their "fundamental understanding of the Earth and how it works, and the science of measuring" to open new opportunities.
In 1992, Dangermond predicted the advent of "ultraminiature sensing devices." ESRI's new ArcPad, running on the Compaq iPAQ H3650 Pocket PC is an example of that prediction. Prior to his first appearance in this magazine, ESRI launched ArcInfo at the ACSM conference in Washington in 1982 because surveyors, by virtue of their expertise, seemed to be the obvious group on which to focus such technology. But Dangermond readily admits that at that time, he did not fully understand the fundamental disconnect between "coordinates" and "measurement." In June I attended the annual ESRI Users Conference in San Diego, and once again had an opportunity to interview Dangermond. Our wide-ranging conversation touched on a variety of topics.
I opened the interview with a statement that it is widely felt that surveyors have turned their backs on GIS. Many feel that this is due to the fact that surveyors want to work at centimeter-level accuracy, not meter-level. Dangermond, however, feels that besides GIS being more associated with cartography, the real reason for the "disconnection" is because GIS didn't really offer the surveyor anything. A surveyor relies on measurements, and traditional GIS has always thrown the measurements away. Once a coordinate is developed from surveyors' measurements, the measurement metadata behind the coordinate disappears.

Database Provides Measurement Storage
A new ESRI product, ArcSurvey, is being developed in cooperation with Leica Geosystems. It contains a database in which a surveyor can store measurements. The new database offers surveyors a real opportunity to claim their rightful place in the geo-information data chain. It will provide not only a place to store measurements (as opposed to the traditional small field books), but also the ability to readjust and refine data as more accurate control values and measurements become available. This has the potential to have a profound effect not only on the way surveyors work, but also in how they interact with the rest of the geo-information community.
Dangermond called attention to two important assets of a surveyor: reputation and record-keeping, or the history of measurements contained in the survey records. Dangermond claims that a database management system doesn't exist for survey measurements, or if it does, it is not well-integrated with GISs. Software developers have handled the integration of raster and vector information well, but few have paid any attention to the measurement model.
He used bar codes as an analogy. When a bar code is scanned, a number of transactions take place, not the least of which is inventory. The new ArcSurvey data model treats measurements as a transaction update to the database instead of discarding them. The software manages the data model according to business rules, and is scalable. This means that it will work with both small and large survey firms. This is all made possible by the introduction of ArcInfo 8, which is object model oriented. Because both measurements and features are treated as objects, all kinds of functionality and customization are possible. Survey information is the foundation for cadastral objects, and ArcSurvey will make the connection between surveyors and the cadastre.

Setting a Foresight at the Limits of a Telescope's Capability
Dangermond went on to say that he feels that surveyors are well-suited for GIS, perhaps better than any of the other geo-sciences. But he also feels that surveyors couldn't really be fully integrated into GIS until the data model existed. The new data model will allow survey information to be used directly, and will foster better respect and understanding of the concepts of measurements, surveying, and survey data.
Information systems reflect the growing specialization of our society. Dangermond believes that the real strength of GIS lies in its ability to integrate information, thereby enabling decision makers to view crucial bits and pieces of information as a "whole." In his opinion, this is what geography is all about, and it is GIS that makes it possible to pull everything together.
I came away from the interview with increased optimism for the future of surveying and GIS. ESRI will undoubtedly lead the charge in the future of GIS applications, and I look forward to future interviews with Dangermond and any others who can set a foresight at the limits of a telescope's capability.

Marc Cheves is Editor of the magazine.

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