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Industry Experts Advocate Knowledge-sharing and Collaboration to Expand Geospatial AI’s Impact 

Geospatial experts, including WGIC members, came together at the ITU AI for Good workshop and discussed the challenges and opportunities in geospatial AI/ML, emphasizing the critical role of partnering with academia.

The World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC) partnered with the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) Academic Network and the Politecnico di Milano to host International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Geo AI Workshop on July 5, 2023. With the theme “Building a foundation for geospatial AI: Defining a syllabus and body of knowledge,” this workshop was a precursor to the ITU AI for Good Global Summit 2023.  

The event featured a panel discussion moderated by Steven Ramage, CEO and Founder of Réseau. The panel comprised distinguished industry experts, including representatives from WGIC member companies such as Planet, Picterra, and SI Analytics. The panelists were Pascal van Dalen, Chief Growth Officer, Picterra; Taegyun Jeon, CEO, SI Analytics; Andrew Zolli, Chief Impact Officer, Planet; and Daria Ludtke, COO, Wegaw. 

The session covered key topics such as Geo AI education, integration in national mapping agencies’ work, and perspectives on Geo AI/ML challenges and opportunities. Panelists from industry-leading organizations shared their extensive expertise gained through years of collaboration with research institutions and academia. They offered suggestions on some of the key topics to teach as well as outlined industry expectations for Geo AI skills and experience. 

Unlocking the Potential of Geo AI 

Geospatial AI, or Geo AI, holds immense promise in enriching our understanding of the physical world by applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) techniques to geospatial data. The vast array of geospatial data encompasses satellite imagery, sensor data, maps, GPS tracks, and socio-economic information, which can be harnessed to extract valuable insights and patterns that traditional approaches may miss or overlook. 

While integrating geospatial information and AI is widely recognized as important, no shared syllabus or body of knowledge within the geospatial sector is currently focused on Geo AI.  

Insights from Panelists 

The panel discussion began with Frank de Mosier, Picterra’s Co-Founder, highlighting current geospatial trends. De Mosier emphasized the importance of nurturing new talent and addressing talent-related challenges by establishing stronger connections with academia. 

Taegyun Jeon, CEO of SI Analytics, discussed his company’s collaboration with universities in Korea emphasizing the need for interdisciplinary education to develop geo-intelligence specialists with AI capabilities. Jeon recognized the importance of global expertise alongside academic partnerships in this rapidly evolving field. 

Daria Ludtke, COO of Wegaw, brought attention to the internship challenges encountered by the company. Ludtke highlighted the remarkable passion of interns keen to embark on their careers in Geo AI and their enthusiasm to share their contributions with a broader audience. However, they often face constraints when publicizing their projects’ results due to confidentiality concerns. Ludtke emphasized the pressing need for stronger collaboration between academia and industry to overcome these obstacles and give interns more opportunities to showcase their exceptional work. By fostering effective partnerships, interns can unlock avenues to present their achievements, thus bolstering their professional growth and advancing Geo AI forward. 

Andrew Zolli, the Chief Impact Officer at Planet, drew a compelling parallel between Geo AI and Google. Zolli observed that if Google had not introduced its groundbreaking search engine innovation, people would likely have depended on individuals with advanced degrees, such as Ph.D. holders, to obtain information and answers. However, Google transformed this landscape by simplifying the process and making knowledge and information accessible to everyone. Indicating that Geo AI is following a comparable trajectory, he added that while it may currently seem intricate, there are optimistic expectations for its evolution and eventual accessibility to the general public. 

WGIC’s Commitment to Industry-Academia Partnership 

WGIC recognizes that geospatial data has immense potential to shape our lives, emphasizing the importance of acquiring skills in map-making, surveying, and data analysis for future professionals. Back in February 2023, during GEO Week’s “Geospatial Education and Market Needs” session, WGIC members and academic experts discussed the increasing demand for qualified geospatial professionals, highlighting the significance of collaboration between academia and industry. WGIC pledged to establish a repository of member offerings, including hardware, software, sensors, and data, to support academia, as well as sharing best practices on geospatial industry internships, aiming to foster meaningful growth and development in the geospatial industry through enhanced collaboration and knowledge-sharing.