Since 1972, there have been 27 leap seconds: additional seconds have been added to the common world clock – Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC – to account for changes in the Earth’s rotation rate. Historically, our concept of time is defined as a small fraction of the length of a solar day, but because the Earth’s rotation rate is somewhat erratic (slowing and accelerating based on various factors), this means that solar time and universal time tend to deviate from each other. So, in order to compensate, we add leap seconds. and this is truly Confuses computers.
I mean, just imagine you’re a computer. You have a very clear sense of time. You know there are 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute: they’re all clean and tidy. Then, on a random day as you wait for the next dawn, you watch in horror as your inner clock approaches 23:59:59 to the previously dreamed 23:59:60. It is very normal for you to freak out. Maybe a little bump, just to calm your nerves. As a result, you are removing some of the largest websites in the world. Everyone is angry with you.
This is not a joke scenario. When a leap second was added in 2012, it caused major outages for sites like Foursquare, Reddit, LinkedIn, and Yelp. By 2015, when it was time for the next second jump, the engineers had mostly learned their lessons, but there were still some gaps. Ditto in 2016. As Linux creator Linus Torvalds put it: “Every time we get a jump second, we find something. It’s really annoying, because it’s a classic case of code that basically doesn’t run, and therefore hasn’t been tested. by users under their normal conditions.”
This is the reason why social media conglomerate Meta wants to get rid of the leap second. In a blog post published yesterday, the company’s engineering team explained their argument against adding leap seconds, saying it’s a modification that “primarily benefits scientists and astronomers” (because it allows them to make observations of celestial objects using UTC). Meta says this feature is less important than it used to be, and outweighed by the confusion that leap seconds cause in the tech world.
“The introduction of new leap seconds is a risky practice that does more harm than good, and we believe it is time to introduce new technologies to replace it,” the company says.
According to a report from cnetMeta is not alone in this, and this campaign has attracted support from other tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon, as well as big hitters in the international measurement community, such as the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the French International Bureau of Gates and Mechanisms (BIPM).
But without leap seconds, what happens to UTC? Do we leave it out of sync with solar time? Well, there are options, Meta points out. One alternative to leap seconds is Tinge Second, which means slowing down the digital clocks over a longer period to calculate the extra time to add – effectively smearing the necessary leap seconds over a period of hours in a day.
However, there are problems with this method as well. There are many ways you can calculate smear seconds (especially in terms of the period you use to distribute the extra “time”). And since there is no single central way to keep track of time across the world’s many digital systems, this means that alternative methods can also lead to confusion and disruption.
Anyway, Meta doesn’t suggest any single solution to the leap second problem. It just says there must be one. Indeed, this is a problem that many other organizations are now considering. The next big milestone will be a report on this issue that was commissioned by the International Telecommunication Union or the International Telecommunication Union in 2015. It’s due out in 2023. Because you really can’t rush into that kind of thing.