13 February 2014

On the passing of the Father of GIS

GISUser.com is reporting that Roger Tomlinson, the Father of GIS, has passed away. He is credited with giving us the name, GIS, for this world-changing technology. For this historic figure, his honors were many as shown in his lengthy UCGIS Fellows bio.

In an interview with Ben and Sue Niemann, you can find nice summary of an amazing career (part 1 and part 2). What did he say was the key to his success? "Serendipity!"  In 1961 he took plane ride where, simply by chance, his seatmate turned out to be the guy with whom he could innovate key steps forward. The amazing thing is how much he had to create from scratch and hom much computing work was undertaken with extraordinarily limited computing resources. He told the Niemanns:

“I had very little knowledge about actual computer capacity. In those days nobody in government did. The only computer programmers were in private companies and I needed to talk to these people, to ask if my ideas were possible. My input was system design; their input was knowledge about computers. It became a productive relationship, and it happened at the time when transistors were allowing computers to be information processors rather than only calculating engines. So there was a convergence of ideas, needs, skills, and technology that set the stage for the development of GIS.”
He went on with innovative coding, building hardware (including inventing a 48x48 drum scanner) and ultimately building an institution. In 1967 he made an amazing video showing the world the power of GIS. Data for Decision Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 is a must watch for serious GIS students.

Esri Canada posted a nice statement on Tomlinson. The GIS Lounge has an article as well.

The big papers haven't posted obituaries yet, but they will. When you think about the pervasive nature of GIS, there are few innovators whose work has touched more people than Tomlinson. Even those living without access to technology are having the landscapes around them cataloged, analyzed, and changed with Tomlinson's brainchild.

Thanks Roger.

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