SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Leaders from across the government, military, academic and commercial sectors will meet for the GEOINT Symposium June 4-7, at a time when geospatial capabilities are expanding and evolving as never before.

The annual conference, hosted by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, is expecting 4,000 attendees — including dozens of companies, many of whom are start-ups looking to get in on the booming business sector.

According to USGIF, a study by Forbes business magazine found that between 2011 and 2015, commercial job demand for people with ‘big data’ skills grew by nearly 4,000 percent.

The world is dealing with an “explosion of geospatial intelligence across multiple mission sets,” said Chris Powell, co-chair of the USGIF Emerging Technologies Subcommittee.

“It’s no surprise that each day we’re surrounded by data that’s being analyzed through machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said Powell, the chief technology officer for NT Concepts, a Virginia-based data analytics and geospatial intelligence company. “The results are predicting disease outbreaks, telling us where we should drive, and who we should connect with on social media, and that’s just a small sample of what it’s doing for us.”

The conference is expected to feature keynotes from many in the U.S. government and military who are most heavily focused on GEOINT or rely on its capabilities, including National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo, U.S. Transportation Command leader Gen. Darren McDew, U.S. Southern Command leader Adm. Kurt Tidd and Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart.

One theme of this year’s conference will be automation and what geospatial capabilities can be handled automatically by machines.

“What we’re talking about is not replacing the people, but taking away the drudge, helping them deal with the volume and be analysts, helping them bring that deep tacit knowledge they have to the party and not have them sit there and stare at screens waiting for something to happen,” said Peter Highnam, NGA’s director of research.

Computer algorithms for analysis is one of the largest areas of growth for GEOINT, and the conference exhibition hall will feature many companies showing off their proprietary systems.

But Highnam reminded everyone getting into the field that to work with the U.S. government, the data needs to be secure and reliable. Unique and novel software engineering for GEOINT must take into account threats like cybersecurity.

“It’s a complex business, once you have to put it into play beyond just games,” he said.

SpaceNews will have continuing coverage of the GEOINT Symposium this week.

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...