Marceau’s Article

November 29th, 2015

Marceau’s (1999) article highlights what scale is and how it affects traditional (authoritative) geospatial datasets. This article reminded me of our discussion in Lesley’s geocomplexity seminar because Lesley addressed the concerns about being too specific or too generalizing, and whether or not we can have both.

Marceau states research should explicitly state the variables, specifically “the role of scale in the detection of patterns and processes, the scale impact on modelling, the identification of scale thresholds, and the derivation of scaling laws” (12). Although I agree with this, certain VGI datasets do not host these explicit details because VGI data lacks metadata that can provide information on scale. With this in mind, I wonder how a “solid unified theoretical framework” to understand scale issues will be approached now that new heterogeneous spatial datasets are produced and used, which can be seen within VGI datasets (ibid.).

Moreover, the connection between larger and smaller scales (e.g. global and local scales) can be connected via VGI. Johnson and Sieber (2013) state that “VGI can cross spatial scales” (74). For example: citizens (the local level) can communicate with governments (the provincial or national level) through producing VGI that the government can use (75). Nevertheless, VGI introduces a unsolidified non-unified framework, which is different from existing expert (GIS) ways of seeing spatial scales that Marceau discusses in his article. As such, Marceau’s article does highlight scale issues that are worth considering; however, since this article was written prior to the Web 2.0 boom, the article does not consider how spatial extent and grain affect other (less authoritative) forms of spatial data. For instance: the word “near” may be conceptualized differently amongst different individuals; experts may consider “near” differently than non-experts. Since individuals have different conceptualization of what “near” means, then collected VGI will have different/individualized standards/opinions that are inputted.



Isaac’s Uber Article

November 29th, 2015

Isaac’s (2014) article on Uber can certainly relate to our class discussions. Like Goodchild (2007) stated, spatially-aware technology like new smart phones have proliferated a series of location-based services, such as Uber. Moreover, Uber’s user-friendly applications allow amateurs to use Uber’s services, and also contribute to Uber’s services by classifying oneself as a contract worker. In a sense, Uber encourages ‘produsers.’ No longer does a taxi driver necessarily need to be trained to provide expert services, which is similar to how geospatial information does not necessarily need to be produced by experts. This highlights how the conceptualization of “expert” is being transformed through technological shifts. Now, whether or not this is a good or a bad situation is up for debate. Reflecting on our last week’s discussions, is it OK for large private corporations to change labour structures in a way that allows certain classes to benefit, while other classes perish, possibly from unemployment?

As GIScientists maybe it is important to consider whether geospatial information should be dictated by large Western corporations and their competitive advantages, or rather it should be dictated by a more distributed population. Like I discussed in my seminar, the divide exists; furthermore, Isaac questioned whether or not Uber and other TNCs are really democratizing the hierarchy that differentiates experts and non-experts. Therefore, as GIScientists, should our focus simply be on the technological improvements of software and hardware to enable certain sharing economy applications to be prodused by a wider audience, or should our focus be on societal improvements to allow a wider audience to contribute to big data? Maybe both? It is important to be aware that the former reinforces power structures because there is still a reliance on certain experts isolating technological complexities from citizens, while the latter may be too difficult to accomplish.


UBER: Sharing Economy or Stealing Economy?

November 28th, 2015

This article uses the example of Uber to explicate the downsides of the so-called sharing economy . The author argues that Uber is another step towards the new neoliberal economy where employees have no job security or benefits. A depressed job market creates a steady supply of drivers willing to work and GIS technology enables the service to function. Their website says “We’re bringing Uber to every major city in the world.” If you’re a taxi driver, the situation looks grim. However if you happen to be an experienced GIS analyst, Uber will offer you a 401k plan, gym membership, full health benefits, and paid vacations. GIS-enabled sharing economy technologies are said to be disruptive in the name of efficiency and a better consumer experience; but from the comparison of benefits between the tech community and the average worker, it is clear who is really being disrupted. The genius of Uber framing itself as a technology company rather than as a taxi service is not just a loophole to avoid regulation. Uber really is a technology company, using its commission from drivers to create ever better geospatial infrastructure. When driverless cars put the Uber drivers out of work, Uber is still well positioned to compete as a transportation and logistics firm.

Get educated folks, the end is near:
Uber Jobs:




Goodchild (2007)-The brave new world of VGI

November 23rd, 2015

Goodchild’s very-well-cited paper on VGI from the mid-2000s is, among other things, a great example of prescience on the part of an academic–comprehensive (for 8 years ago), concisely-written, and representative of both specific knowledge in the evolving realm of GIScience as well as a general interest in the future of society as it becomes acquainted with powerful new technologies and their potential. While it is taken for granted that scientific papers present expert knowledge, having an understanding of the implications of technological advancement is much rarer to find.

VGI is simultaneously a huge leap in the field of geography–presenting a new way of  collecting data, a new relationship between the field’s professionals and the general public, and a radically increased amount of information about the Earth’s surface–as well as a curious psychological phenomenon similar to avid Yelp reviewers and other altruistic givers of information to public platforms.

Perhaps of even greater import for research–revealing my biases here–is the use of humans as sensors. We are, as Goodchild reminds us, extremely sensitive beings. What better way to collect information that is valuable to humans than by harvesting it from masses of humans, rather than, say, limited embedded sensor networks? Humans know what a traffic jam looks like, what an earthquake feels like, etc. This direction of inquiry into future development of technology quickly transcends the notion of ‘volunteering,’ becoming what other scholars have referred to rather innocuously as “ambient” geographic information. Will the future resemble the popular location-monitoring app Find My Friends, where all of us are “friends” with a central authority who watches over us, benevolently (or not)? Perhaps heart rate monitors could detect disasters even more rapidly than volunteered reports–or disruptions to social order.

Goodchild 2007: Are we human, or are we sensors?

November 23rd, 2015

VGI and citizen science is a recognition of the potential of mobilizing and utilizing ordinary citizens to aid scientific progress. It is the responsibility of the provider’s of technologies such as Open Street Map and Google Earth to dissolve the boundary between citizen and scientist in a way that preserves accuracy yet encourages involvement. In “Citizen’s as sensors: the world of volunteered geography,” Michael Goodchild describes the intricacies of this boundary in the context of Web 2.o.

I am reminded of last week’s discussion of critical GIS, specifically the issues surrounding the Social Constitution of GIS. I believe the concept of Google Earth mash-up tool is a great example of obscuring the boundaries between elite GIS providers and simple consumers of this technology. In GIS and Society: Towards a research Agenda” (1995), Sheppard speaks of commercially driven GIS and the implications such a GIS could have on the direction of the field. Encouraging citizen involvement in the way Google did diversifies the potential future directions for GIS.

Throughout reading this paper, my opinions on the reliability of volunteered geographic information evolved from skeptical to reassured as Goodchild introduced the increasing institutional support and standards for VGI. In the section titled “Spatial data infrastructure patchworks” the author outlines the way in which government institutions have aided the emergence of VGI. In my studies of the Sharing Economy, I have found the a variety of government responses to the emergence of new user-based technologies and apps. My findings have been as follows: Government sanction doesn’t do much to slow down users, and an embracing of new technology is the only logical response for institutions that wish to remain current and bound in reality.


Drones: State of the technology (Watts)

November 23rd, 2015

Watts’ overview of drones is one of those “this is where we’re at right now” articles providing a closer look at the various categories of UAVs, their capabilities, advantages and drawbacks, etc. with regards to remote sensing applications. Watts claims that drones will spark a revolution in science similar to that of GIS, a claim which stands up best in a future context wherein drones can fly autonomously, freed of human control, much as satellites and a good portion of a standard commercial aircraft flight already are. To me, this is the difference between an evolutionary step (improving unmanned flying systems, which have existed for quite some time) and a revolutionary step (replacing paper maps with layers on a computer; expanding by untold orders of magnitude the amount of information that can be represented, and introducing automated data manipulation).

Watts also overviews the regulatory environment, which, as is the case with so many other rapidly-evolving technologies, struggles to keep up and risks either stymying innovation or permitting dangerous risks. While drones have potential in many areas, Watts is focused on remote sensing research, which is generally carried out by public institutions like universities. For now, as he mentioned, commercial use of drones remains prohibited in fall 2015–notwithstanding exceptions granted to Google and Amazon to test cargo-delivery models in defined airspace. Therefore, expect this limitation to change.

A Military History of Drone Use: An Aspiring GIScientist’s Analysis

November 23rd, 2015

I am very intrigued by the Watts et. al’s brief history of drone use, mainly the concept of unmanned aircraft existing before the 20th century. This is a testament to the intrusive and all encompassing  influence of defense expenditure. More testament lies in the incredible variety of military drone technology described in this paper. I am reminded of last week’s discussion on the weaponization of GIS and maps. Although drone technology existed before the introduction of widespread GIS technology, it is heavily enabled by Geospatial technology and poses an ethical dilemma much more real than the weaponization of paper maps. In “GIS and Society: Towards a Research Agenda”, Eric Sheppard discusses how GIS technology dissolves the notion of space by enabling an individual to be in two places at once (to a certain extent), and UAV technology adds a physical component to this notion.

On a lighter note, I have personally witnessed the commercialization of drones and see benefits of the dissolved barriers of access to users such as Leslie. The latter half of Watts et. al’s paper takes a much lighter tone, and discusses the scientific advancement made possible through drone technology, and more recently, remote sensing technology. I studied remote sensing last year under Pablo Arroyo, and was educated on the potential of LiDAR technology in researching areas difficult to access on foot. The potential for saved time and effort is astounding.

This paper views drone and remote sensing technology from a technical perspective, and while I do not take issue with that, it’s important to note it elects to abstain from discussing social or ethical implications of easily accessible airborne cameras. In the short time drones have become a commercial fad, I’ve heard stories of property disputes (as in video of a man shooting down a quadcopter above his home) and self proclaimed drone-free areas. I foresee an abundance of litigation and ethical discussion in the future.


Revolutionary VGI

November 23rd, 2015

Elwood et al. (2013) investigate the potential research directions VGI can take in GIScience. They touch upon current problems with in VGI, including that of data quality control. As I began researching VGI for this week’s presentations, I quickly began to question aspects of its legitimacy. This stems mainly from my concern that the users who are contributing are preselected. Elwood et al. touch upon this, they refer to it as the ‘long tail’ effect where a few contributors generate the majority of information (2013). They mention that this is likely not the most accurate or reliable, which I imagine is true as a I, a single human being have far less knowledge on a large area (say Canada) than I do on a smaller region (say McGill)—an application of Tobler’s law as addressed in the article (2013). The authors suggest that this can be amended by the use of some sort of approval system but I fail to see how very inaccessible places will be properly mapped if engaging the community is challenging.


A second very interesting point from this read, that I had not considered was that of the social implication VGI has on areas where maps may be dominated by central agencies. Though many online VGI mapping sites keep the users anonymous, I don’t know if they are legally able to keep users information private in all countries (China?). I’m imagining a situation where territories borders are under dispute between to conflicting parties, if that law forces the company to reveal users information then this could potentially endanger users. Furthermore, if this is a known risk then it may discourage participation from large portions of a population.   On the flipside, by opening up the power of mapping to the public where it otherwise was restricted maybe VGI will be used as a revolutionary tool! Perhaps comparable social media in the Arab Spring.



VGI: A disruptive force with room to grow

November 23rd, 2015

In the chapter “Prospects for VGI Research and the Emerging Fourth Paradigm” Elwood, Goodchild, and Sui (2013) touch on important aspects of VGI such as quality concerns, types of engagement, and how it could evolve, especially in terms of coinciding with big data’s emergence. The differentiation between space and place as well as how the distinctions can affect subsequent analysis was potentially an obvious reference for experts in the field but definitely made me look at VGI in a different way. Since my own research has had such a strong focus on spatial scales and geophysical processes, this unfamiliar concept of platial scale was intriguing.

This chapter introduces the reader to the complexities of VGI that they might not have thought of before. Part of that can be attributed to the formatting – the mix of factual literature reviews followed by open-ended musings manages to convey a sense of what VGI looks like now and also what areas should be the focus of further progress. I never thought of VGI as an opposing alternative to spatially focused GIS but rather a citizen-based approach following the same old norms of conventional GIS. The most insightful comments seem to stem from critiques of how participation fundamentally changes the whole input, process and output of VGI. Even more importantly, how VGI is defined can impact much larger institutional structures. Mimicking the authors themselves, I will finish with a few questions that highlight these potential impacts:

“What kinds of state-civil society relationships are produced or transformed through the creation and use of VGI?” (368) And,

“Does VGI imply transformations in the social construction and politics of “data,” “science,” or “geographic information”?” (368)


VGI – Citizens as Sensors Article

November 23rd, 2015

In GEOG 407, we discussed the important role VGI plays in neogeography. Goodchild’s article, Citizen as Sensors: the world of volunteered geography, does a good job of exemplifying how the nature of geographic data is changing with the emergence of the Web 2.0 and crowdsourced platforms (2007). For my work on open data standards, I observed how VGI is transforming how civil society interacts with their local government. For example, I looked at an API that allows citizens to file a request with their local government to fix public sector issues such as potholes, fallen trees, and vandalism in their local neighborhoods. VGI allows the Open311 API to establish a two-way communication (acts on both the server and client sides) between government and civil society. In addition, this data is time sensitive and could introduce issues of bias and repetition that is a common problem when many people contribute VGI at the same time. As platforms develop to handle VGI, GIScience must focus on confronting common issues of sorting out duplicate information and applying statistics to live streaming data that lacks a population value.

In addition, Goodchild’s article reminds me of Dena’s discussion about the digital divide and the types of forums that exclude certain voices and epistemologies. As the article points out, only people who have access to the internet contribute VGI. Of course, these people are heavily concentrated in the developed part of the world. Therefore, we must be aware of the inequalities and biased perspectives that contextualize VGI. Finally, as technologies become more reliant on VGI, it is clear that GIScience must further understand what motivates people to contribute information. Much of GIScience will rely and apply data that has been volunteered and crowd sourced. It must also decide how to factor issues surrounding user expertise and accuracy of data being reported. For instance, citizen science must reconcile how to sort out information being reported that is perceived to be scientifically inaccurate. These questions will continue to be important topics of research within the field of GIScience.


Thoughts on VGI

November 23rd, 2015

In Elwood et al’s article “Prospects for VGI Research and the Emerging Fourth Paradigm” I am drawn to the schism described between the spatial orientation of geographers and the ‘platial’ orientation of most people who “tend to refer to locations by name, whether or not such names refer to precisely bounded areas” (363). Furthermore, Elwood et al suggest that “it is remarkable that place-names have played a surprisingly minimal role in traditional GIS”, instead adopting the spatial precision orientation of most geographers.

I wonder if it is possible for VGI to help develop a more ‘platial’ GIS and, if so, what that would look like. If people perceive the world more platially than spatially, then what phenomena are geographers (the supposed monopoly on understanding the world in spatial terms) missing major trends in political, cultural, and urban geography? For instance, I have long that transit-dependent and transit-oriented Montrealers exist in predictable axes that influence the behaviour of otherwise unlinked neighbourhoods. For instance, many anglophone Montrealers live in the West End of the city, and may attending major institutions such as Dawson College, or Concordia or McGill Universities. All of these neighbourhoods and schools are within very close proximity to Sherbrooke Street West. How does the relative connectedness of these neighbourhoods influence the psychology of the area? Does this spatial cluster inhibit flows of contacts, ideas, and investment between relatively well-educated and affluent anglophones and other residents of the city? How do francophones who live in this area perceive their belonging to their neighbourhoods and their contact with anglophones relative to other anglophones?

That example is a bit obvious, but I suspect that many other associations and flows of people impact the city in many ways. I envision that the incorporation of VGI analyses into travel surveys, for example, could help detect more of these axes. For instance, urban geographers, using travel data derived from travel surveys or even OPUS card data could evaluate the movement of Montrealers relative to likelihood of those movements based on the existing network. In other words, what flows are overrepresented given their non-ease (e.g.: 45 minutes drive or 2 metro rides and a bus transfer) and what flows are underrepresented given their ease (e.g.: only 10 minutes drive or 1 or 2 metro stops away).

Of course, it could be argued that such information is interesting but non-useful to geography. But I think there is a rich level of study that is going unexploited given the available technology and our admitted discrepancy between the way people perceive their relationship to space versus the way that geographers conceive it. Studies could be used not only to describe the phenomena of flows but also how to better provide links in the city in order to help facilitate existing but underserved flows, and also to integrate the city’s residents.


Thoughts on Drones

November 23rd, 2015

In his article “The social implications of using drones for biodiversity conservation”, Chris Sandbrook notes that “it has been argued that the use of new technology can be empowering for local groups if it provides them with the means to collect their own data, enforce rules and challenge the claims of others who may wish to mislead them” (640). Sandbrook suggests, for interest, that a community could use drones to collect data for “forest monitoring [and] carbon measurements” in the face of private interests (640). In his suggestion that drone technology could foster more citizen-driven participatory data collection and analysis, I am reminded of the stated ideals my topic (open data). It was initially and still is claimed that open data can improve citizen involvement and decision-making when, indeed, barriers of skill, time, and knowledge have prevented open data from blossoming into a democratic tool. Unlike open data, drones also incur considerable cost for use, from both the cost of the technology and of obtaining permits, presenting further challenges to ‘popular’ use of drone technology as a tool of local empowerment.

In my opinion, GIScientists have an ethical obligation not only to incorporate concerns of impact on citizens in their own “ethnical protocols” (640), but also to critically consider the validity of ‘citizen participation’ arguments used to justify drone technology, open data, and other possibly invasive tools and developments used for GIScience. If, indeed, it is found that the preponderance of data collected and manipulated using drones or open data are benefitting defence interests, governments, and corporations (as I believe they are), then the academy of GIScientists and other academics using these tools should abandon this justification and condemn other academics that use it, at peril of the tools and their disciplines eventually being outed as snake oil salesmen.

After consideration of Sandbrook’s reading, I am drawn to the opinion that not enough mitigations of the social implications of their use are yet developed, and therefore that drones should be ‘grounded’ for academic or research use, even where potential benefits exist. Unlike certain forms of data collection that are either tailored for a specific purpose (e.g.: most academic research) or well know in their methods, availability, and usability (e.g.: census data), data collection derived from drone use violate the principle of informed consent and may produce unforeseen quandaries with unknown consequences.


Social Implications of Drones – Sandbrook

November 23rd, 2015

Attending the key note speaker on GIS day reminded me that most of the commercial and government sectors perceive GIS as a tool. When Marina asked the keynote speaker about the ethical implications of remote sensing, it appeared to me that the question deviated from the topics from the presented lecture. Issues of privacy, data security, and the social risks of conservation GIS were not discussed in the body of the GIS/remote sensing presentation. GIS was mostly portrayed to the audience as a means for industry growth, environmental regulation, and increased government transparency. However, when we think of drones as a science rather than a tool, we begin to understand how the technology embodies concepts and systematic problems embedded in its fabrication and historical background.

It is incredible for me to think that fixed wing drones can operate thousands of miles away from its pilots. This notion of distance and perceived separation from the consequences of our actions has implications for how we behave ethically. This types of far reaching surveillance reminds me of the discussion of Foucault’s Panoptican referenced in Kwan’s (2002) article about feminist GIS. Drones make us aware that we can be observed even though we are unable to see the observer. As a result, applications of drones have the capacity to make regulation of those being watched a passive act. Therefore, the nature of drones are linked to methods applied by uneven power hierarchies and wide spread control. It is concerning that regulations applied to drone usage are mainly within the jurisdiction of the government and military. This means that legal systems that are not kept in check by civil society will mimic the interests of those in power. For instance, the article states that drones can be applied to catch illegal hunting of wildlife. But if the government decides to transform land that is tied to the livelihoods of indigenous communities into conservation areas, then drones become complicit in the marginalization of indigenous groups that defend their land. Again, these social implications of GIS are very relevant to our discussion last week about the capacity of maps and GIS to do evil.


Potential for conflict in VGI

November 23rd, 2015

In this article, Goodchild asks what motivates people to contribute to VGI. His use of the term asserted geographic information is very interesting to me, because I expect that as the awareness of VGI diffuses into more diverse demographics, ideological elements may cause tension in how a location is identified or described. I was actually quite surprised to know that the city of Medina, the second holiest in Islam, is so thoroughly mapped on Wikimapia, and linked to photos of important mosques. I would not be surprised if this were to cause controversy between those contributors to VGI who think that this is inappropriate and those who do not. Likewise, Uluru is a sacred sight for the Aboriginal communities who live near it, and tensions may also arise from the controversy over whether or not posting photos and information on Flickr is appropriate. While formal sources of information such as guide books might already be ignoring such questions of sensitivity, what makes VGI different is that dissident voices can assert their position. While Goodchild would describe such activity as “subversive” or “anti-social”, I think one must see the nuance in this situation, as place names are often used for asserting competing narratives. Taking the example of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, I would expect OpenStreetMap to have difficulty coping with the competing contributions of Chinese, Vietnamese and Philippine nationalists. As it stands currently, I observe that the Spratly Islands (claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia) nearly all say “Philippines”, while the Paracel Islands (claimed by China and Vietnam) say “China”. Hopefully OpenStreetMap will be able to devise more diplomatic mechanisms to prevent such tensions from escalating into the “anti-social” behavior that Goodchild fears.

  • Yojo

Watts 2012: What will the legal environment of drone operators look like?

November 23rd, 2015

Watts’s article about unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) offers a broad overview of the technological development and variety of drones. The main civilian uses mentioned in this article, such as monitoring of wildfires, scientific research and mine safety, do seem like good avenues for the use of this technology. Safety concerns are important in these contexts, though I fear that these dangers may be exaggerated sometimes, such that jobs in aviation are reduced unnecessarily. As far as the legal implications of the proliferation of UASs, the article is concerned mainly with how the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whose mandate concerned with physical safety, will cope with the ambiguities that UASs present. However, this is more from the perspective of how users of drones are affected by regulations, and is less concerned with whether or not the spirit of these regulations will be adhered to. I wonder whether operator licenses may become a necessity, in order to prevent occurrences such as a drone falling from the sky and injuring people due to poor handling. Beyond physical safety issues, there are also societal issues outside of the jurisdiction of the FAA. In the United States, many laws are being passed by state governments in addition to federal regulations. Gary Wickert’s article “Drone Wars: Airspace and Legal Rights in the Age of Drones”, discusses a variety of state laws that are often quite situation-specific. Environmental scientists who use drones in the US may have to keep abreast of a multitude of state laws in order to ensure that they are not accused of harassing hunters, as in the case of Alabama, or aiding hunters, as in the case of Colorado, or taking any footage of a hunter or angler without their consent, in the case of Tennessee.



Military bound

November 23rd, 2015

I enjoyed Sandbrook’s (2015) description of some of the non-military applications of drones, as the author mentions the two can be hard to separate.  In fact I found this article to be a justification (critical justification?) of their use.  I say critical because of Sandbrook does not shy away from the negative uses of drones, he is very objective in his analysis which is greatly appreciated.  I did, however, at the end of this read find myslef asking the question: is it possible to separate drones from military use?  Of course all intentional uses of drones are not strictly for military purposes as Sandbrook shows, but it seemed in every situation he offered he also addressed some very real and very possible concerns that tie drones back to their military nature.  He even opens the article by addressing the negative connotations associated to the word ‘drone’ but embraces it for lack of a better alternative.

I suppose GIS went through (still is?) a similar period as many of the greatest advancements in GIS and remote sensing are the result of war driven technological progress. As I write this a conversation from last class stands out in my memory-that of maps kill and maps + guns= drones.  Reflecting on some of the points my classmates made, this article helped clarify one aspect of our discussion.  Though ultimately the decision to kill is that of the user (I am choosing not to discuss the idea of distance/engagement though I recognize its importance).  The way that Sandbrook showed how peoples most common response to drones are those related to fear and actions based from fear-even if their life is not at risk  (thinking of the poachers example) means that drones work through inciting fear.  They are fear-mongering devices and until this changes I believe they will be inseparable from military use.



Social Implications of Using Drones for Biodiversity Conservation: Sandbrook 2015

November 23rd, 2015

In Sandbrook’s “Social Implications of Using Drones for Biodiversity Conservation”, the ethical and social issues surrounding the use of drones for conservation research are discussed, and positioned within the bigger conversation of the benefits and costs of using such technologies for empirical research.

Drones are in their infancy with regards not only to conservation research, but to passive data collection techniques as an empirical research method. The article does a great job at giving an overview of the social benefits and the barriers that remain to be surmounted as well. I do believe that conservation techniques may be compromised through increased “hacking” knowledge, and that the article should have discussed this angle more, as it brings with it many interesting questions: How can we “protect” the data collected by the drones? And furthermore, how do we catch the culprits? Cybersecurity is an increasing field of research, and goes hand in hand with using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones).

I found that the article also brought attention to the important problem that is how these technologies will be perceived by local communities that see these technologies overhead. While the article doesn’t provide a solution, it appears that just mentioning the ethical implications of drone use is a big step in and of itself, as only a handful of conservation articles reviewed by the author bring up the issue in their research. That was shocking to me, as this article was published this year!

That being said, I really look forward to tomorrow’s discussion of this topic, especially following last week’s discussion of Critical GIS and ethics within GIScience as a whole.


Can drones ever be a neutral technology?

November 23rd, 2015

The article by Chris Sandbrook on “The social implications of using drones for biodiversity conservation” is aptly named and raises questions about the development of drone technology beyond its usefulness for research (2015) . I do realize that I am already biased against drones and that was especially obvious when I read the phrase “we are entering the drone age” (638) and my immediate thoughts were of diminished privacy and increased tracking. Perception of technology is as important as the actual capabilities and results of using that technology.

One point to which Sandbrook drew my attention was that we can all too easily end up narrowing down the understanding of drones to a good or bad binary. An important example of how this elimination of more nuanced views can be detrimental is one of drones being used to catch poachers; the drones “promote simplistic narratives of ‘good’ conservationists and ‘evil’ poachers, thereby undermining understanding of this complex issue among the wider public” (641). Furthermore, what will be the reaction if drones are used for multiple projects of varying intent in the same area? Can we really expect people with minimal technological expertise to accept and embrace drones being used for “good” conservation work while simultaneous “bad” military or third party surveillance is happening? More importantly, should we?

I especially like the emphasis on framing drones in a more holistic sense; this seems to speak to GIScience development of drones versus short-term driven tool use. However, this article felt a bit brief and could have expanded on certain points. For example the almost self-contradicting potential recommendation to remove sensitive data related to identification and privacy before the information is passed on versus the warning that hackers could access said sensitive information would have been interesting to read about in more depth. Overall, Sandbrook provides a reasonable argument that drones are not the solution to conservation struggles but rather a potential to-be-investigated part of the solution.


Sandbrook 2015 – Filling the big gap in ethical discussions

November 21st, 2015

The Sandbrook article discusses drone use in conservation and its possible negative social consequences. I really appreciated the general direction the article takes, as well as some of the more specific aspects of the article; for example, the author’s attentiveness to language. Sandbrook addresses the fact that there are many negative connotations with the word “drone” and also chooses to avoid use of the gendered word “unmanned.”

For the future of drone use for conservation, Sandbrook sees a need for self-regulation by the conservation industry until the legal status of drones is more solidified. I am a bit skeptical about this, and the ability and desire of the conservation industry to do this. Sandbrook mentions that other technologies have used self-regulation, but doesn’t mention whether it has been effective. This section left me wondering how regulations will be agreed on and enforced.

Sandbrook presents a conflict between using drones for conservation efforts, and the negative potential social effects of drones. This presents one of the biggest ethical questions in GIScience and critical GIS: can technologies that are rooted in violent applications be separated enough from those purposes to be used positively? There is no obvious answer, but I think writing articles like this one and acknowledging these conflicts is a step in the right direction. Merely spending a section of an article on social or ethical implications might seem insignificant, but I have come to realize the lengths that some people in GIScience go to avoid addressing ethical conflicts (for example, the keynote speaker at GIS day!). Now, I feel I am less apt to take for granted the people in the field who actually acknowledge issues of ethics. As the author points out, there are only three papers which address social implications of using drones for conservation, and one of them discusses it from the perspective of eco-tourists rather than local people. It might seem obvious to us to address social implications because we’ve been doing it in class all semester, but clearly the literature is lacking in this aspect.


VGI: crowdsourcing the places that matter to people

November 19th, 2015

The Elwood et al article raises many important and intriguing questions, many of which are very relevant to what I discussed in my presentation on critical GIS. There is definitely overlap between the topics, as is discussed in the article. I appreciated that the authors brought up how deeply political it is to create a crowdsourced data resource. The “long tail effect” that the authors discuss in terms of data contribution is really relates to the Leszczynski quote I brought up in my presentation, that just because a data set is crowdsourced and made available to everyone doesn’t mean that everyone is contributing.

Something I had never considered that the authors bring up is the “scaling up” of qualitative methods in GIS. I had looked at qualitative methods that mostly looks at individuals; for example, oral histories and narratives, and hand drawn maps. It’s difficult for me to imagine how that might look, to scale up qualitative data, but the issue of scaling up is a relevant one, considering that one of the big questions of VGI is how to deal with enormous amounts of contributed information. To do this, the authors point to a need to weave together qualitative and quantitative data in mixed-methods approaches.

I also found it interesting that the authors make such a distinction between space/place and spatial/platial, and the fact that they say that geography has long made this distinction. I’ve never been clear on the difference (or the fact that space and place are even different) so this inspired me to look into it further. I looked into Yi Fu Tuan’s work and found that he defines place as “a center with felt value.” Space, in contrast, is open, abstract and limitless. This is definitely relevant to discussions of VGI and critical GIS since, as the authors state, VGI is more place-based than traditional GIS. I hope that we can use VGI and discourses of critical GIS to explore the places that people identify and connect with.


Tuan, Y. F. (1979). Space and place: humanistic perspective (pp. 387-427). Springer Netherlands.