Monday, January 29, 2018

Maxar CEO Lance: "Machine Learning and AI" will Drive the Next Generation of Data Analytics

         By Chuck Black

It's worth noting that, at least when he isn't encouraging the staff at his Richmond BC based MDA subsidiary to continue insisting that it's still "all Canadian eh!," San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies CEO Howard Lance is a decent enough writer with useful things to say.

Is he smiling? Maxar CEO Lance in his "happy place," while contemplating the future. Photo c/o Maxar Technologies.

And, as outlined the January 23rd, 2018 Lance written GeoSpatial World post, "Machine learning and AI will drive the next generation of capabilities in data analytics," his take on geospatial derived data is useful and informative.

According to Lance, geospatial data is:
... an increasingly essential element of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, not just because of the demand for analytics rather than just pixels, but because of the power it brings to applications that facilitate the Internet of Things and the ability to track consumer, government and business behaviors...
According to the January 14th, 2016 World Economic Forum post on "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond," the fourth industrial revolution is:
...building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. 
There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. 
The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.

All those platitudes sound wonderful, but the development of the fourth industrial revolution seems to be so very dependent on the creation of an Internet of Things, a "network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data," according to Wikipedia.

This network is designed specifically to connect "everything to everything," which makes it difficult to encourage individuality and uniqueness, if only because there are no checks and balances to preserve small pockets of contrary data and the uncomfortable conclusions which may derive from them.

Lance thinks this is a good thing. According to his GeoSpatial World post:
For everything from satellite systems through to multi-source data collection, enrichment, and analytic capabilities that reveal unique geospatial information and insights, we are ready to meet industry demand where and when it matters the most. Our goal is to help national security and commercial organizations understand and navigate the changing planet and to integrate geospatial intelligence into the next generation of automation applications. 
No other company has such strong roots in geospatial intelligence with our level of scale and commercial mindset. Our combined team of aerospace engineers, geospatial analysts, weather and ocean experts, software developers, data scientists, and DevOps engineers apply disruptive technology and our unique intellectual property to solve both national security and commercial problems. 
This is an industry that is rapidly evolving and Maxar is extremely well poised to advance the state of the art and to meet the demand for critical answers when they matter the most. 

Of course, Lance is wrong, if only because he discounts the individual and their contributions. Most of the real scientific advances over the last 400 years started out as the ideas of individuals or of a small minority of advocates which over time grew to become conventional wisdom:
  • Nikola Tesla, who got a job in Paris with the Continental Edison Company in 1882, working in what was then a brand new industry, and ended up best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.
Who will eventually prove people like Lance wrong? That's for history to say. As for the rest of us, here's hoping there are enough knowledgeable individuals to do the appropriate due diligence to at least keep him honest.

It's not that there's anything wrong with AI or even with Mr. Lance and his colleague's at Maxar. It's just that this blog would prefer not to discount the contributions of real people in Canada and around the world.

Besides, sometimes he has useful things to say.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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