We’ve been into Zoom work calls, Netflix marathons for more than a year, and most of us are online for more everything. And the Internet has not become a goo like some Experts | feared at the beginning of the pandemic.
Households, organizations and individual websites have had connection problems, but the basic installation of the Internet has mostly held together. It shows that technologists have learned from the mistakes of the past when the internet did did break and built a more adaptable system over decades.
As the United States re-opens, I wanted to take a moment to evaluate what went right and appreciate the people and technology that have made our digital lives sustainable. Nerds, greetings to you.
I called Justine Sherry, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, to ask her why it didn’t come despite catastrophic internet outages Wild peaks in online traffic during the pandemic. Last year there was even Mark Zuckerberg concerned that his company may not be able to keep up with all of the people hopping on Facebook’s apps.
Dr. Sherry gave me two explanations. First, she said, the Internet’s greatest weakness – its connectivity – is also its greatest strength. Second, digital services have been cleverly designed for strange and imperfect conditions.
“The underlying infrastructure that makes everything work is always adapting to bugs, and it does a pretty good job,” Dr. Sherry.
Your first point mainly concerns the spread of cloud computing. The technology, partly made known by Amazon, essentially makes any website or app pay for another person to do all or part of their digital operations, rather than doing it alone.
There are drawbacks to this approach. When a widespread cloud computing company has a problem – and it happens pretty regular – it can crash the websites of banks, Paralyze supermarket checkouts, Deactivate email and prevent people from accessing news outlets online, including the New York Times.
The cause of this fragility in our Internet installations is also a strength. Since a large part of the world’s digital services are handled by huge computer systems like those of Amazon and Google, many digital services can react more flexibly to peaks in demand and deal with problems more easily.
Dr. Sherry also introduced me to some other internet design technologies that were essential to the surge in web traffic.
She told me about a technology pioneer Van Jacobsonwho invented software to automatically slow down internet data when online networks are congested. She compared it to the freeway metering systems, which limit the number of cars entering driveways during rush hour so the roads aren’t completely blocked.
Dr. Sherry said his invention was a response to the unusable Internet in the mid-1980s, when networks, which are mostly used by universities, kept breaking down when too many people were online at the same time. Congestion control algorithms are widely used today. And web video companies have developed software on a similar premise to automatically degrade Internet video quality when Internet networks are congested.
These techniques, said Dr. Sherry, are adaptations based on the principle that the internet will never be perfect and everything we access online must work under non-ideal conditions. “The big issue of all of this is agility and adaptability,” she said.
Yes, Online services in many countries have stalled after the pandemic Last year and Internet service providers and website owners made efforts to add more computers and capacity to unclog networks. Our home networks and the individual Internet connections that run into our homes are usually the most common sources of error. But here too, the architecture of the broad internet system is pretty healthy.
I asked Dr. Sherry, whether we should pay more attention to how the internet works. Should we thank Van Jacobson if Netflix streams pretty well while driving in a moving car?
She said that failure is a sign that a system is working as intended. “I don’t know much about how my car works,” said Dr. Sherry. “I depend on it.”
Before we go …
Computers have the same errors as humans: Humans train the machines and therefore our prejudices can creep into artificial intelligence systems. My colleague Cade Metz writes about people and organizations that Trying to identify and remove distortions from artificial intelligence software before it is widely used for high profile decision making, e.g. B. Who should receive housing, health care and loans.
More Evidence for the Internet Age Verification Problem: US law requires websites and apps to effectively get parental permission before children under the age of 13 use online services, but the rules are difficult to enforce. An example: TikTok said it more than seven million accounts removed in the first few months of 2021 because the company believed they belonged to children under the age of 13, reports Axios. My colleagues wrote about it last year the large percentage of TikTok users who are most likely underage.
A phone company that does something smart?!?! T-Mobile lets people Test his cellular service without logging in, reported The Verge. People with newer iPhones can download an app and test the T-Mobile network side by side with their existing telephone provider for 30 days.
Here is Sivuqaq the walrus claps, loud enough to be heard on the other side of the four-inch glass walls of its armor. My colleague Sabrina Imbler explained to me how and why Sivuqaq claps.
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