Today marks the date in 2000 that “Selective Availability” (SA) for GPS was turned off. Arguably, that move by the US government set the stage for the current explosion in location aware apps. Sure, the argument can be made that efforts (then and now) to fine tune location by cell tower triangulation and other efforts would have gotten us to a similar end, but I wonder what the world would be like if the date for selective availability turn off was set for AFTER September 11, 2001. I dare say that the world would be a very different one today, technologically. In our post 9-11 climate of justified paranoia, I don’t think SA would have been turned off.
But interestingly enough, having the GPS system (as open as it is) has probably made us safer. It certainly played a role (military and civilian) in the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden. That and other satellite and mobile technology allowed for coffee-shop based tweets during the firefight, and Google map locations of the compound within hours after the incident. Even more interesting is the business and recreational opportunities spawned by GPS. My wife and I are “geocachers” – once avid, now occasional. Our “use case” has been primarily during vacations – where exploring geocaches has led us to some of the most interesting places on earth (caves, scenic viewpoints, remote island sites); in some cases, it was peculiarities (geographical and historical) that life long locals were completely unaware of. What fun!