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  • Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • Simone Ross: Jack, I would love you to tell us what Esri is

  • and also why GIS is so important.

  • Jack Dangermond: So it is a company,

  • it builds software products that are used by millions of people.

  • Kind of like a platform technology,

  • but not literally platform.

  • It builds tools that help people do their work better.

  • And that's a very general statement,

  • but helps them do their work better using geography as a science

  • and visualization as a science and technology

  • to help them make better decisions,

  • or help them be more efficient

  • or help them communicate what they're doing better

  • It's kind of mapping.

  • I mean, the way normal people would think of it as map-making.

  • So this organization has 350,000 organizations that we support.

  • They're our customers, you might say.

  • And they range from NGOs, thousands and thousands of them,

  • working in conservation or humanitarian affairs,

  • to large corporations,

  • but our majority of users are in the public sector,

  • in cities and counties,

  • in national government agencies,

  • and they're basically running the world,

  • that's the way I would say it.

  • SR: So right now, we hear a lot about companies using tech

  • to improve the world,

  • but it sounds like that has always been baked into your DNA.

  • JD: I grew up as a young kid in a nursery,

  • my parents were servants,

  • and they started a little nursery to help put me through school,

  • that's the way I saw it.

  • They were immigrants and they grew plants.

  • They were attracted to landscaping,

  • which I grew up understanding,

  • so I went to design school,

  • first environmental design school

  • and then landscape architecture and then city planning.

  • And in that progression,

  • I came to understand very clearly the idea of problem-solving,

  • because that's what design really is about,

  • you see a problem and you come up, creatively,

  • with something that solves the problem.

  • And at Harvard,

  • I started to get engaged with systems and computing.

  • And I realized, wow, this was in the '60s,

  • you know, when the environmental movement was still just in its birthing,

  • I saw, "Wow, you could actually apply tech to environmental design."

  • And so this idealism that often happens when you're in school,

  • you know, "I can really do something!" --

  • well, I loved the idea of taking systems theories

  • and technology

  • and applying it to environmental design problem-solving.

  • SR: Do you call Esri a tech company?

  • JD: We started doing little projects,

  • you know, locating a new town,

  • locating a store,

  • locating a transmission line,

  • doing environmental studies as a foundation, using tech,

  • to be able to make decisions,

  • which were largely design decisions or planning decisions.

  • And we did that for about 10 years.

  • Just gradually growing as a professional services company,

  • all the time continuously innovating tools

  • that would help us do our projects better.

  • And this idea of continuous innovation.

  • I mean, we invented some of the first digitizing tools for maps,

  • we invented some of the first computer map-making tools.

  • We invented the first spacial analysis tools

  • that were commercial in nature.

  • And over that decade or so,

  • customers began to say,

  • "Gee, I'd like to do that work that you're doing, Jack."

  • So we started to think about the idea of a product,

  • that is, our technology that we applied on project by project

  • could actually go into a product that people could use everywhere.

  • And the big idea of this product, Simone,

  • was the integration of information using geographic principles.

  • Bringing all the different factors together

  • to not only first help us do the projects,

  • but then build these systems that help other people do the projects,

  • and then later build systems.

  • So we went from a project company to a product company

  • that built systems that helped organizations do their work better.

  • SR: What you're doing, I believe,

  • is sort of the integration of human and built systems

  • with natural systems.

  • And then helping people visualize that

  • and figure out then how they can design and build for that

  • in a better, smarter way.

  • Is that accurate?

  • JD: That's one aspect of it.

  • We sometimes call that geodesign.

  • We digitize or abstract geography, the science of our world.

  • You know, Simone, all of the factors that you think about,

  • I think of as layers.

  • Physical features, environmental features,

  • demographic features.

  • We bring all of those things together in a GIS

  • and then by overlaying those things, we can actually do better designs.

  • We design with all the factors holistically.

  • That's what actually, as a student, got me excited,

  • because I saw you could bring all of the "ologies,"

  • all the geology, the sociology, the climatology, all together,

  • and then make better decisions on that,

  • so I think of geography as the mother of all sciences,

  • because it's an integrative technology.

  • And then digital geography, what we call GIS,

  • allows us to be able to use that instrument

  • to empower the transformation of how people make decisions.

  • They can look at the whole, not just one factor,

  • not just making money, not just conserving land,

  • not just this or that.

  • It's optimizing many factors at the same time.

  • Yeah, so in the retail sector,

  • people like Starbucks or Walgreens or Walmart,

  • all the big retailers,

  • both here in the US but in the UK, all around the world,

  • use geographic factors to pick the right location.

  • They look at the demographics,

  • the traffic,

  • and then the large insurance companies and reinsurance companies

  • look at all the different factors that are necessary to understand risk.

  • And they overlay them and they model them

  • and they visualize high-risk areas or low-risk areas.

  • In disaster response,

  • whether it's fire, or like today, the big earthquake in Turkey,

  • there's a whole cycle of work that has to happen

  • when disasters happen.

  • You know, response, recovery,

  • all these work activities are underpinned by having good information.

  • And that information is geographic in nature.

  • So disaster response, public safety,

  • health and looking at issues today that are troubling all of us

  • in the areas of social equity.

  • Where is there disparity?

  • And when something like the pandemic happens,

  • or unemployment due to the economy happens,

  • we can look geographically and see these factors all coming together.

  • So it's like your mind does in many ways.

  • I mean, we built a tool that allows you to abstract reality

  • and see it,

  • and then look at all the relationships between these factors

  • in order to create understanding.

  • So Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of TED

  • often describes us as an understanding organization.

  • "You're all about understanding, Jack, it's not about technology.

  • Your users use your tools to create better understanding."

  • And the way he describes it is understanding precedes action.

  • This is essential to our work.

  • SR: And it is a platform that you're building,

  • so you're sort of connecting all these different areas of knowledge, right?

  • JD: Today, we have what we call Web GIS.

  • So GIS lives in the web

  • with distributed centers of information that are pulling data out,

  • georeferencing,

  • and using location as a way to do the integration.

  • We might call it mashing up different layers

  • from distributed services or distributed sources of information.

  • And our users are now bringing this knowledge together dynamically

  • in things like smart cities

  • or the popular vernacular these days is digital twins.

  • So all of that geographic reality

  • can now be beamed into organizations,

  • whether they be emergency response organizations

  • or utility organizations or government.

  • And any of the different departments,

  • whether they be law enforcement

  • or you know, science, climate change, biodiversity,

  • all of that series of issues that we're facing today

  • can be enriched by not only bringing together the information in real time,

  • real-time measurement seen on maps,

  • but also integrating those like using spatial analysis

  • or location analysis to look at the relationships and patterns.

  • You see, it's not just seeing it,

  • it's also explicitly understanding

  • the relationships between something like breast cancer and pollution

  • that might exist in a particular geography.

  • And saying, "Aha,

  • we can quantitatively understand these different factors

  • and, as a result, respond."

  • SR: So you can do that

  • because you are putting all these different layers on

  • and then you help visualize that.

  • JD: Visualize it, but also spatially relate them

  • with math and modeling.

  • So it's not just a matter of visually overlaying material,

  • it's a matter of connecting the geometries

  • or the factors or the features on these maps to each other,

  • like your mind does.

  • SR: I have to read this, because I don't want to get it wrong.

  • You had said at some event last year, the Geodesign Summit --

  • which sounds fascinating to me -- you said,

  • "Transformation is not just about change,

  • it's about leaving behind the past to focus on the future."

  • So can you talk a little bit about that?

  • JD: Historically, we have been at the effect of the environment.

  • I mean, this is the history of the world.

  • The world constrains us in what we can do as human beings

  • and we often adapt and adopt to various environmental situations.

  • This field of geodesign

  • is about bringing geographic systems and knowledge

  • into the design process

  • so that we can actually be guided by nature

  • and be more sensitive to it

  • so that we can be responsive to the greater forces of the environment

  • and do it in such a way that we can take --

  • it's thinking of the world as a garden.

  • It's like gardening,

  • you must pull out the weeds, you nurture your plants,

  • you take care of certain things,

  • you make sure things are watered.

  • And at this point,

  • because of the way we are organized, and the way we think

  • and the way our information is brought to us,

  • we don't think as a garden,

  • we don't think holistically,

  • we don't think of the relationships that are in our lives,

  • that are affecting our lives.

  • And as a result, we're careless,

  • we're polluting the environment, we're messing it up.

  • I mean, on steroids,

  • I mean, the world is really in trouble at this particular point.

  • I mean we have the crisis of COVID,

  • but my God, COVID is just a little wave.

  • What's coming behind us is the climate change issue,

  • which is not so easy to fix.

  • There's no vaccine that's simply applied.

  • And then behind that, there's the loss of biodiversity

  • and behind that,

  • it's sort of unraveling what has taken billions of years

  • to be able to put together.

  • And so, as human beings,

  • my sense is we've got to be more responsive to take care of our place.

  • SR: It's transformation with science and design

  • as opposed to transformation

  • brought on or foisted on us by rapid tech change.

  • It sounds very deliberate.

  • JD: It's very deliberate.

  • Again, when I was a student,

  • I got the vision or thought

  • that we could actually do environmental planning

  • and design and development better by thinking holistically.

  • Bringing all the factors together.

  • And when I launched Esri,

  • we were starting to do projects better