Our 21st century nerve center gets an upgrade

GPS satelliteCan you imagine what live would look like without GPS? Anyone who is older than 20 years old can easily remember a time when cars were sold without that (still) expensive factory option or perhaps even a time when your phone wasn’t able to direct you to the nearest sushi restaurant in a pinch. However those days are long over. The 24 satellite constellation that perpetually provides a blanket of location-based signals to the more than one billion receivers 12,000 miles below on Earth has become so ingrained in our modern way of life I hardly imagine that we could – or would want to – part ways with it now. I’ll avoid a long diatribe about what this system means from a social control perspective but suffice it to say that we have willingly given up some degree of autonomy and privacy in exchange for glorious convenience – and I’m including myself in this backhanded indictment. The good news for all of us is that one by one the 24 satellites will be replaced and the entire system upgraded to improve not only the reliability but also the accuracy. The current 20 foot margin of error will be tightened to roughly 2-3 feet.

There are some obvious benefits to this upgrade. The first is simply that better is better. We expect “bigger, better, faster, more” in all walks of our lives, so why should GPS be immune? The second is – and I am making a leap of faith here – that overall system speed and capacity will be improved. This is a fair assumption given what I know about technology systems and it certainly follows logically. Lastly and most intriguingly, it opens the door to a host of hyper-specific location-based applications. For example, an embedded transmitter can tell the frantic owner of a lost pet the precise location of their furry family member or – more provocatively – imagine a social media application that would allow large groups of people (i.e., festivals, sporting events, or even dense metropolitan areas) to interact in new ways. Citywide game of tag anyone?