Monday, September 01, 2003

More Than Maps

I've realized that my earlier ideas about maps that have the "actual" names of countries were too limited. What about countries with more than one name? What about areas that are claimed by more than one nation? What about history? It occurs to me that, with display technology available in the next few years, we'll be able to radically change what we think of as "maps." Not only will they be fully customizable, in terms of displaying various layers of political, geographical, and environmental information, they will be able to show history, what the ancients called places, or where the ancient roads were.

That's just the start, though. As cool as that will be, it's still just a representation of static -- albeit highly multidimensional and rich -- data. But with sensor networks and wirelessly-enabled map displays, the maps will update in real time; useful for military applications, sure, but also weather, traffic, crowd control, finding friends, etc. In fact, sometimes it astonishes me how limited the J.K. Rowling's imagination is: in just a couple of years, our technology will blaze past the Marauder's Map (and almost everything else in the book, flue powder and flying brooms excepted).

One more step. Why should the map be just a display? The data will be gathered by a ubiquitous network of sensors, but in many cases those devices will also be actuators. The map, then, becomes an input device to affect the environment it represents. Look at a map of a garden; overlay the soil moisture; then water the parts that need it. Maybe the map really will be the territory, after all.