Blog Editor’s Note: For more GPS history, as well as an interesting discussion of Skinnerarian behavior changes it has wrought in people, we recommend “Pinpoint, how GPS is changing technology, culture, and our minds” by Greg Milner. 

How GPS went from being the tech everyone hated to the tech everyone needs

January 24, 2020 8:00 AM EST

This article is part of the Fortune series, “When GPS goes wrong.” 

The Global Positioning System has transformed everyday life over the past two decades. But the revolutionary system was far longer in the making.

Like many other pieces of world-changing technology, GPS can trace its genesis to the battles and the arms races of World War II. But far from bursting onto the global stage, the system—which uses satellites positioned around the globe to provide accurate timing and location to tens of millions of travelers and countless businesses—endured a long and fraught gestation period, deep within the U.S. military bureaucracy, largely out of sight.

And if the advent of GPS included several unexpected twists and turns, the scale of its eventual impact has also proved surprising. Today, it’s not just helping us get from A to B, but often shifting how we look at time and space entirely.