What a difference a day makes

It still amazes me that IT infrastructure can be affected by the date and time

And that’s just what happened to Microsoft’s Azure Services Platform earlier this week as an errant piece of code struggled with the leap day we had on February 29th disrupting the cloud-based service for scores of users. Yet there have been plenty of cases over the years where computing infrastructure has been affected by the date or there has been mass panic that it would be. Changing the date or time – it seems – can bring systems down when we least expect it.

Warning: this post will become increasingly metaphysical the further you read.

Obviously the classic case of mass hysteria due to the date changing is the murky spectre of the Millennium Bug (a.k.a. Y2K, Year 2000 problem) that loomed over us as we waited for the year to shift from 1999 to 2000. I can’t precisely remember the scaremongering that was going on, I was a kid at the time, but I do recall frantic news reports from the front lines of computer nerds to the bowels of gas stations in the Midwest of North America with their food shelves picked bare.

Steps were taken prior to New Year’s Eve parties the world over that meant mission critical operations weren’t affected by an inability to handle the date changing in two-digit year systems. And some were affected, but the mass buying of Twinkies was hardly necessary as only a handful of systems thought we’d gone back in time to 1900.

Perhaps we’re too obsessed with time

Of course the year changing or the clocks going forward an hour wouldn’t be an issue if we weren’t all so obsessed with time. Cataloguing time is a human construct, an obsession that is potentially detrimental as we note the seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months and years.  It’s been happening since before Babbage was born. In a way we have structured our behaviour and thought so that it operates around the concept of time.

Time wouldn’t have to be the concern of computers if we weren’t so worried about it. All computers are worried about are events. It is us that feel the need to ponder the precision of when. A computer just wants to know the order.

Computers are already more human than we give them credit for

Earlier today I watched a video that was put up on TED talks, it was called Peter Weyland at TED2023: I will change the world.

While the fictional character of Peter Weyland is essentially saying that cyborgs will become people and people gods, to me computers are already far more human than we realise. We’ve already anthropomorphised them to the extreme. And it’s all down to this obsession with time that we’ve inbuilt into them.

No other species is obsessed with cataloguing time, but we’re the ones that have created computers and made them as we are. Others would say that language is our defining aspect or the ability to use tools: both of these are apparent in other creatures – truly it is time that it is unique to us on this world.

Computers only worry about time because we do.

Header image adapted from “King Cloud” by Karen Ka Ying Wong used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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