How the Fourth Revolution transforms our view of Earth

Working in the field of large, complex projects, I can’t see a project file nowadays without great pictures coming from Google Maps adorning the file: pictures of the site, of the present facilities…

Industrial Facility seen from Google Satellite
Industrial Facility seen from Google Maps

And indeed it is so easy from any computer to have precise satellite pictures of any place on Earth that we just don’t think any more about the miracle that is… ten years ago only, this privilege was reserved to government authorities and large corporations who could pay to get the picture taken by an aircraft or a satellite.

And today in developed countries most roads in large cities are also visible through Google’s StreetView.

This unprecedented democratization of earth imagery has far reaching consequences. It changes fundamentally the concept of ‘public space’ (which can now be observed from anywhere on Earth) but also the concept of ‘private space’ (you can’t hide what you have in your garden from your neighbor any more!). It changes fundamentally how we perceive the physical space around us. This transformation is as strong as when we saw the blue planet Earth for the first time from space, floating inĀ emptiness, in the 1960’s.

Some people argue that because only a limited number of actors manage this data (Google being the most prominent), we are exposed to possible manipulation of the data for commercial purposes, showing us only what they want to show us (see the paper “The Dark Side of Commercial Mapping”). We are not so pessimistic, because there will always be competitors and the crowd will denounce abusing behavior. But certainly our view of the geography that surrounds us has been transformed and this has already changed our decision making when it comes to property or project management.

Today, our perception of our immediate and distant geography has been transformed. Like our new vision of Earth transformed our mindset in the 1960’s, how will our action taking relative to geography, in particular in the field of ecology, change?