As a computer-dependent application, the origin of GIS could be traced back to research and development in electronic data processing in the 1940s and the 1950s, which finally led to the successful implementation of computer-aided graphical data processing and database management system. In the early 1960s, R. F. Tomlison conceptualized the first GIS, Canada GIS, to address the needs of land and resource information management of the federal government of Canada; it became operational in 1971. In 1963, H. H. Fisher used the computer to make simple maps by printing statistical values on a grid of plain paper, which includes a set of modules for analyzing data, manipulating them to produce choropleth or isoline interpolations, with the results to be displayed in many ways using overprinting of line-printer characters to produce suitable gray scales. Although cartographers had begun to adopt computer techniques in 1960s, they were mostly limited to automatically draft maps. For traditional cartography, the new computer technology did not change fundamental attitudes to mapmaking.
In the early 1970s, the Swedish Land Data Bank was developed to automate land and property registration; the Local Authority Management Information System and the Joint Information System were developed in Britain and used by local governments to control and monitor land use. By the late 1970s, there had been considerable investments in the development and application of computer-assisted cartography. Hundreds of computer programs and systems were developed for various mapping applications. The history of using computers for mapping and spatial analysis shows that there have been parallel developments in automated data capture, data analysis and presentation in related fields, which have resulted in the emergence of general purpose GIS. Map data processing was the primary focus of GIS and spatial analysis functionality was generally rather limited.
Topological principles in cartography, proposed by Corbett in 1979, were a milestone of GIS development, by which geographical data can be stored in a simple structure that is capable of representing what they are, where they are, and how they are spatially associated with one another. In 1982, the vector-based ArcInfo GIS software package was released by Environmental Systems Research Institute, in which graphic data are stored in the topological structure and attribute data are stored in tabular structure. By the late 1980s, many other GIS software packages were developed by using a similar data model.
In the 1990s, computer technology has provided huge amounts of processing power and data-storage capacity. With advances in operating systems, computer graphics, data management systems, computer-human interaction, and graphical user interface design, GIS became multi-platform applications that run on different classes of computers as stand-alone applications and as timesharing systems. Development of Web GIS has allowed expensive data and software to be shared. Standardization in interfaces between data programs and other programs has made it much easier to provide the functionality for handling large amounts of data. GIS has been considerably developed in many aspects. Much knowledge on how to set up computer mapping and GIS projects efficiently has emerged. The basic functionality required for handling spatial data has been widely accepted. Although these advances have promoted the considerable development of
GIS and the development of GIS has entered the 'age of geographical information infrastructure', the basic spatial models used in modern GIS are little different from those of 20 years ago. New insights into spatial and temporal modeling still need to be made if GIS is to develop beyond a mere technology.
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