Students in my "Mission Possible: Global Issues, Leadership Choices" class occasionally have to contend with Grey Swans, or unexpected events, that threaten to upend their plans. This article from Bloomberg Businessweek looks at a real-life Grey Swan: the consequences of an accidental or intentional disruption of the Global Positioning System.
"GPS isn’t just for maps. It’s also a kind of vast, spaceborne clock. Computers all over Earth use it to determine what time it is, down to billionths of a second. When there’s the slightest disagreement among those computers, things fall apart. Microsemi’s timing receivers were frantically issuing error messages because of just such a discrepancy. ... Over the next 11 hours, cellphone towers lost their connections, U.S. police and fire stations reported communications errors, BBC radio signals were interrupted, and the telescope that tracks asteroids in Earth’s orbit went offline. ... It’s tough to overstate how GPS-dependent the world economy has become since the U.S. Department of Defense started giving the service away to the public in 2000. There are 2 billion GPS receivers in use around the world, a number that Europe’s satellite navigation agency estimates will hit 7 billion by 2022. Along with the telecommunications industry, banks, airlines, electric utilities, cloud computing businesses, and TV broadcasters require constantly precise GPS timing. Emergency services do, too, as do military forces. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated 16 sectors of infrastructure as 'critical,' and 14 of them depend on GPS."
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