You are at home one day, you go to sleep and you check the clock: 23:59:50, you keep watching, you want to see when it changes from 23:59 to 00:00 and just when the last second arrives, you realize that it jumps to 23:59:60. It will most likely blow your head off. This happens to computers every leap second.
Since 1972 there have been 27 leap seconds, that is, additional seconds that have been added to the world clock, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This was established in order to account for changes in the speed of the Earth’s rotation. To understand it better: we have a concept of time that is defined as a fraction of the length of the solar day; however, the rate at which the Earth rotates is uncertain, so solar time and universal time can be separated. That is why leap seconds were added, to synchronize both times.
Now, although computers are quite “intelligent”, leap seconds manage to dislodge them; so much so that they have wiped out the world’s largest websites when they collide with a leap second. In 2012, when a leap second was added, it caused interruptions in pages such as Reddit, LinkedIn, Foursquare among others. In fact, the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, spoke about it: “Almost every time we have a leap second, we find something. It’s really annoying, because it’s a classic case of code basically never running and therefore not being tested by users under their normal conditions.”
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Due to this annoying situation, Meta, the parent company of social networks like Facebook and Instagram, requested to get rid of leap seconds. Through a blog post, the team argued for their request, stating that these seconds only “mainly benefit scientists and astronomers” (as it allows them to make observations of celestial bodies using UTC). According to the company, this benefit is no longer so important, instead, if it generates unbearable confusion in the world of technology.
“Introducing 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 commented. Although Meta proposes an impractical alternative, they do not have a unique solution to the problem. The next big milestone will be a report on the subject by the UN International Telecommunications Union or the ITU in 2015 due out in 2023.
As reported on CNET, this request from Meta has been joined by other big tech such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon.