What is GIS and what is not? Review Article

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As the title implies, this review of GIS (both GI Systems and GI Science) talks about boundaries – what is “in” and what is “out”. In order to do this, the discussion itself must have some boundaries. A Canadian prime minister once described his country as “too much geography and not enough history”. Here we will try to minimize both the history and the geography, and see how GI Science (the discipline) impinges on a variety of other disciplines, from Astronomy to Zoology perhaps. In other words, the boundaries of GI Science are becoming much less clear-cut, and fuzzier. It is important not merely to look at the traditional “Geo-” disciplines, but at other subjects which can contribute by overlapping with GI Science. In many cases this overlap may be more a question of mutually useful technology than similarity of applications – so even the distinction between GI Systems (the technology) and GI Science is a fuzzy one. This review is just one opinion, and a brief one at that, of where GIS fits at one moment in time. It will inevitably conflict in parts with the opinions of others. In outline we will look briefly at the initial situation, and see that historically the technology slowly became a new discipline. Since the question – What is GIS and what is not? – involves comparisons, we must look at the boundaries between the “ins” and the “outs”, initially for the discipline and then for the technology. Inevitably these boundaries will be fuzzy, with lots of overlap. We will then attempt to use these overlaps to suggest where things might go in the near future.

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