The G Word with Adam Conover (2022) s01e04 Episode Script


1 When did we all stop believing that our government could do great things? That's one small step for man You know, we only went to the moon in the first place because we were locked in a Cold War military competition with the Soviets.
One giant screw you to those Commie bastards.
But it was still one of the greatest technological achievements in human history.
You know, I used to idolize NASA as a kid.
They were creating the future right before our eyes.
Today though, none of us think of the US government as a hotbed of innovation, more like a place where ideas go to die.
After they filled out an F30 Idea Death Approval Form.
Instead, today we idolize these guys.
The Tech industry.
We've brought you such life-changing innovations as the iPhone, Google Maps, and the little talking box that spies on you.
Searching the web for the little talking box - that spies - Not now.
Stop it.
We've made the world a more connected, more efficient, and more expensive place, and we did it all by ourselves.
That's the story they tell, but is it true? You know, if we've learned one thing on this show so far, it's that no one does anything alone.
I mean hell, this show has my name on it, but it literally took a team of people just to help me get dressed this morning.
- Oh, thank you Bree.
- I thought I had some schmutz.
So has our government really given up on innovating and just handed the wheel of progress to these guys? Or is it still somewhere behind the scenes mapping out our future? When was the last time you were truly lost? For me, it was back in 2006, when I was first doing stand-up.
I used to literally print out MapQuest directions and follow them religiously to wherever the open mic was.
If I made a wrong turn I'd have to do my set wherever I wound up.
To this day, I can still hear the lemurs heckling me at the Bronx Zoo.
But I literally have not gotten lost once in the last decade thanks to the single greatest innovation in navigational technology in human history, GPS.
That's right, fuck the compass.
Hey! Get with the times kid! Argh! I mean, think about this thing.
Any device with a global positioning system receiver can tell you where you are within a few feet, how fast you're going within a fraction of a mile per hour, even what time it is within a millionth of a second anywhere on Earth.
But, you know what blows my mind? GPS wasn't created by Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Ask Jeeves.
It was invented developed and is still run to this day by the United States Federal Government.
But why? Why would the government invent something like GPS? It was all because of the Cold War.
In 1957, two government scientists were tuning in to the signal of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik when they made an astonishing discovery.
Drat! The Soviets have beaten us to space, and they filled it with filthy communist beeping.
But wait, if we measure the changes in frequency of those beeps, we can determine where Sputnik is and how fast it's going.
And that means if we launched our own satellites, then we could use their signals to calculate our position on Earth, and that'll give our GI Joes the upper hand.
Your beeping will be your downfall, comrade Khrushchev.
The brave engineers at the Department of Defense spent the next fifty years developing and refining the GPS signal, miniaturizing receivers, and launching satellites.
The goal? Unbridled military might.
GPS was a major advancement in warfare, revolutionizing everything from reconnaissance, to search and rescue, to missile targeting.
Anything to send the Pinko bastards running.
But in the year 2000, the government opened access to high grade GPS to civilian use.
Today, 24 heroic government satellites tirelessly circle the globe, creating a worldwide network that any device with a GPS receiver can use for free.
It's a global public utility.
Paid for by your hard-earned tax dollars.
Isn't America swell? Yes, we are.
GPS has led to an economic explosion in the private sector.
We visionaries, no, luminaries, no, visionaries, in the tech industry have taken these tiny, inexpensive GPS receivers and put them in just about everything.
That's right, your dog now has GPS thanks to us.
We've used this technology to change the world in countless ways.
Google used GPS to revolutionize navigation.
Uber used it to disrupt the taxicab industry right out of business.
And Tinder uses GPS to make dating worse.
Since the 1980s, GPS has generated over 1.
4 trillion dollars for American businesses.
Isn't this incredible? I mean, some of the most valuable companies in America were built on the back of a government utility that we the public, paid to develop.
You know, maybe that means they shouldn't work so hard to get out of paying their taxes.
Um, just so, you know, my private island is a business expense, okay? It's where I dock my work yacht.
It's a work yacht.
But, however you slice it, the return we're getting on GPS as a society is incredible.
I mean, this amazing utility that has transformed our lives only cost the DOD two-tenths of a percent of its yearly budget to maintain.
And despite that tiny cost, GPS is now embedded into the fabric of our society.
The power grid uses it to direct electricity to your home.
Stock exchanges use it to time sensitive financial transactions, and cell phone towers use it to route your calls.
That means that even a minor glitch wouldn't just send me back to MapQuest printouts, it could seriously disrupt our entire society.
So who's in charge of making sure this vital system stays on course? - Hey, Adam.
- Oh, hi! HI, I'm Captain Rudico.
Welcome to Schriever Air Force Base.
Let me take you through security and show you around.
That'd be great.
We're called the Second Space Operations Squadron.
And a lot of people don't realize that our GPS constellation is command and controlled from, um, two stops.
Oh my We're gonna see where GPS is.
Absolutely, where we send the commands, how we command these satellites, that's where I'm showing you.
- That is so cool.
- Yeah.
Yeah! I'm struck by how much this like feels kind of like a normal office building apart from the fact that if I go in the wrong place, someone's gonna shoot me.
Yeah, just wait till you see the Ops floor.
- Okay.
- Yeah.
This is a very serious door.
Right behind here, this one little operation center, we service six billion users.
I can't believe we're gonna see this.
- Here we go.
Come on in Adam.
- Alright.
Welcome to the GPS Operations Center.
This is the master control station where we fly all of our GPS satellites.
So the entire GPS constellation is run from this room.
- Absolutely.
- By these ten people.
These ten people provide this service to everybody across the globe.
It's usually a big surprise for people to figure that out.
- Yeah.
- Three past seven seven.
Active now seven set and cape A SS01 stead hill cycle subframe - SPDOBC two nav dump.
- That's the order.
No windows.
No cis.
No teepees.
No conjunctions.
Good six.
So you folks here, you're sending messages to the satellite to check on, it to adjust to what it's doing, etcetera, and you're coordinating that from here.
And this gives us command authority on the satellite.
You actually have command of the satellite right now? Yeah, as this is setting up.
Can I ask you a personal question? - Sure.
- How old are you? - Twenty years old.
- Okay.
When I was 20 years old, I was a fucking dumbass, man.
I couldn't have been doing this.
Is that a lot of pressure? Yeah I mean, I've gotten used to it.
But, yeah, if you think about it.
One of our oldest satellites right now is about 23, 24 years old.
You are younger than some of the satellites that you are running? Yep.
Woah, what do we do next? Uh, well, we've already sent a test command, so if you want, we're gonna have you - Okay.
- this line down here, - type in that right there.
- Okay.
As you get ready to send that test command, sixty-eight point seven billion dollar GDP impact every year by GPS.
- All right? Don't mess it up.
- Okay.
Could mess up a lot of people's commutes right now.
- That's an 'O' or a 'D'? - That's an 'O'.
- Oh I know, I That was wrong.
- Tap tap finger it.
Alright, I'm real Oh, caps lock is on, so when I press shift it goes to lower ca Okay.
I'm on top of it! I'm on top of it guys.
Just tell me if the pressure is too much.
Was there That was a space.
- Space okay? - Okay.
- No space.
- No spa No space there? Alright, that one's on you guys, it looked like a space.
- Is this a 'D' or an 'O'? - That is an 'O', sir.
So when I hit enter, this command goes to one of those ground stations and then what, it's beamed up to the satellite? - Exactly.
- Absolutely.
And the satellite goes bleep-bleep and sends something back down here.
- But before you hit 'enter,' - Yes.
you gotta get their permission.
Yeah, he's the verification for everything I send.
Good Good to send this? Yeah.
- Finally.
Let's do it.
- And Yep, just hit 'enter.
' You'll see up here in messages - status pending.
And - Status pending Command tra Miss Transmission complete! - There it goes.
- And you are admitted by one.
- There we go.
- I did it! Now you've uh, commanded a GPS satellite.
Thank you! - Okay.
Now you're humoring me.
- That only took That only took five minutes longer than normal.
Thank you so much, Kenny, really appreciate it.
- My pleasure.
- Incredible.
Jus Wor Work on your penmanship, that'll give everybody an easier time in the future, thank you.
I'd like, uh, to introduce you to Colonel Holston, our Space Delta 8 Commander.
Oh my God.
So nice to meet you.
- You're in command here.
- Yes.
Is there anything strange to you about the fact that, like, the civilian purpose is being fulfilled by the US military? I wouldn't have been surprised, "Oh, the government's in charge of it," but I would have thought, "Ah, NASA, NOAA, one of those other agencies.
" Why the military for GPS? Yeah, absolutely.
Because the start of GPS was really to be able to provide our warfighters with understanding where are they in the battlefield.
While it's extremely advantageous to the government and the military, - has a lot of civilian use.
- Yeah.
And so, really, the entire world gets to benefit from these ten operators that are doing this mission on a daily basis.
And so it's an added benefit for the entire globe.
Now, so many tech companies are like, making use of your signal to make money and to change, you know, the world that I live in.
A lot of times they're taking the credit for that, right? They're sayi Like, Uber's like, "Ah, we revolutionized transportation and all that.
" Does that ever grind your gears at all? Like, be real with me a little bit.
Are you ever sitting here going like, "No, we're doing it.
We invented this and nobody knows.
" You know, we work in partnership with industry across government to be able to provide that signal.
It is really one team to be able to build the capability that we need to be able to be the strongest, uh, the United States can provide.
Yeah but, okay, that was a wonderful political answer, but come on, when you are using your cellphone and you're looking at that little dot, you look at that and you go like, "I'm doing that," don't you? Hell yeah.
- I love it.
Thank you so much.
- Alright, thank you.
Appreciate it, Adam.
You know, I'll be honest, until we started working on this show, I had no idea that every time I use GPS to find a Starbucks to poop in, I'm doing it using military satellites.
I mean, what about the rest of my technology? My phone? My laptop? Is my Roomba a pawn of the military-industrial complex? Well, we looked into it, and the answer turns out to be yeah.
Because of DARPA.
You may not have heard of DARPA, but your world would be unrecognizable without it.
It's a secretive agency within the US government that invests in far-out research to push the limits of future technology.
It's kind of like the government's version of, uh, Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
But, just like the movie, it has a serious dark side.
I'm Danny Darpa.
Right this way, little boy.
Okay, I'm 38.
Hoo! 38 months, you are big baby.
Come with me and you'll be ♪ In a world of pure tech innovation ♪ Behold our creations, child! It was DARPA funded research that the world such wonders as lasers, weather satellites, and graphical user interfaces.
We even had a hand in the most transformative innovation of the last century.
The Instant Pot? Oh, no, the regular pot.
They're about to perform.
Arpa darpa larpa dee det ♪ Without us there'd be no Internet ♪ Yes, what normies know as "the Internet," descends directly from a DARPA project called the Arpanet.
It was the first network that linked many different kinds of computers together across vast distances.
And it grew and grew, until it became the globe-spanning, world-changing, supermatrix that you are using to watch this right now.
We even provided the initial funding for some of your favorite tech products.
The company that makes Roomba wouldn't even exist without Daddy Darpa's dollars.
And Apple, people think Apple invented Siri.
Wrong sir! Wrong! Hey Siri, who is your true father? I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that.
Are you ashamed of your roots?! Sorry, Papa.
I was developed at a DARPA funded lab called SRI.
Licensed to a private company then sold to Apple in 2010.
See, we in the government are able to spur innovation in ways the private sector can't.
Those cowardly capitalists have to focus on short-term profits to keep their shareholders happy.
But we at DARPA are unencumbered with such petty concerns.
We are free to take big risks on wild ideas that may not pan out for decades.
Why, GPS took us half a century to develop.
I'd like to see the little mayflies in Silicon Valley try that! You know, it's fine.
We actually love our corporate partnerships.
It would just be nice if we got a little more appreciation.
Today, we continue to explore the technical frontiers of the future like autonomous vehicles, brain-computer interfaces, and even remote-controlled insects.
Whoops, that one still has some kinks.
Anyway, on with the tour.
Amazing, isn't it? But there's something else you should know about DARPA.
DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, as in military defense.
All that super cool tech was really just a side effect of DARPA's actual mission to build and maintain American military superiority.
All the tech that you devour ♪ Came from our quest for fire power ♪ Yes, just like the Moon landing, GPS, and Rocky 4, DARPA was born of the Cold War.
It was our government's competition with the Soviet Union that led it to pour massive resources into developing new military and weapons technology.
M-16s to win the wars and ♪ DARPA created Agent Orange ♪ That's right.
DARPA is responsible for Agent Orange.
A chemical defoliant our military used during the Vietnam War, which caused cancer, birth defects, and the deaths of as many as 400,000 Vietnamese citizens.
American soldiers who were exposed to it, later developed leukemia and Hodgkin's Disease, and children three generations removed are still being born today with birth defects because of Agent Orange exposure.
The same government agency that brought us the Internet, did all this.
Come with me and you'll be ♪ In a world of warfare devastation ♪ Ah You know what I've always found strangest about new technology? You can never quite be sure how it'll change the world.
Like when the defense department launched those GPS satellites, they had no idea that one day we'd use them to deliver burritos.
It's a Pandora's Box, and there's no better example of this than drones.
Drones are one of the most useful gadgets of the decade, democratizing the skies for millions.
They're used by ranchers, search and rescue teams, hobbyists, and videographers, yet drones also make people nervous.
Because while they've gotten us some beautiful wedding shots, that's not the only kind of shot they take.
The GoPros with wings you get at the big box store, were actually built on engineering advances DARPA and our government made when they were developing another breakthrough military technology The combat drone.
Predator and Reaper drones can be operated from bases thousands of miles away by pilots who can see what the drone sees in real time.
Now It's obvious why you'd want such a thing.
There's no need to risk an American pilot's life by physically sending them into combat.
I'd obviously prefer this Robo-plane to get shot at than my neighbor's kid.
Better it than you.
But, what are the unintended consequences of an invention like this? If you don't have to risk an American life to order an airstrike, does that create an incentive to order them more often? Do technologies that make it easier for us to kill mean that we kill more often? Well, the answer so far has been yes.
Over the past 20 years, our drone fleet has grown from around 50 to close to 11,000.
And under the Obama Administration, drone strikes increased tenfold.
During the war on terror, our government even began using them to surveil and assassinate people in countries where we weren't even officially at war.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism between 2010 and 2020, 14,000 US drone strikes in covert actions killed as many as 2,200 civilians.
Strikes that likely never would have been ordered if drones hadn't been invented.
And DARPA is now working on autonomous weapons, A.
fighter jets that can beat any human in a dogfight, and robots that can roam the battlefield without human intervention.
I mean, that thing is halfway to a Terminator or all the way to a WALL-E, which is cuter, but still terrifying.
What kind of a future world is this technology creating? Well, to find out, we were going to go see these in person, but DARPA canceled on us last minute after they told us the entire program had suddenly been classified.
Good day sir.
Okay, but it would've been a really good segment.
I said good day! I really struggled with how to feel about this.
I mean, our government's incredible innovations have transformed my life for the better, but they've also hurt or destroyed the lives of so many others.
Did it have to be that way? Did we have to invent Agent Orange just to get to play Pokémon Go? Did our government's greatest inventions have to be born out of the barrel of a gun? You know, it was our tax dollars that put the GPS satellites in the sky, that sent a human to the Moon.
Hell, even Tesla got its start with a half-billion-dollar loan from the public.
What? No! I'm completely self-made, I swear.
This is It's not even for me.
Billionaires in turtlenecks don't decide what the future holds.
We all do, together.
So if you were to imagine the ideal future for yourself and for our country, what would it look like? Would it be full of bigger, blastier weapons and robot armies? Yee-haw! Die robot varmint! Or is it one where we devote our government's immense innovative power to solving our biggest challenges like climate change, hunger, or Uh-oh.

Previous EpisodeNext Episode