Google Outage Leaves Internet Users Stumped

 Did your Google services stop working, and refused to work even after you cleaned up you cache, rebooted your PC, checked your wiring, and even called your Internet Service Provider to find out if everything was alright with them? Well, it wasn’t you – this one time, it really was Google.

On Monday, the 14th of December,2020, most of Google’s services – including Google Classroom, Google Docs, Gmail, YouTube, and even Google assistant had rendered unresponsive to users, sending them a ‘503’ or a ‘502’ error instead. Both these numbers related to server failures – while 502 is a bad gateway error that indicated discrepancies between the origin and edge servers, 503 means that the server was unable to handle the request. Such messages were displayed on both of Google’s personal and business versions of its services. 

The sudden “disappearance” of Google’s services, which is said to power of 97% of internet users daily activities caused mass panic among people. Popular social media platforms, especially Twitter ran amok with frantic users discussing on why they couldn’t access even the most basic of Google services. Many of these users also reported problems with other services that relied on Google. This included smart gadgets such as Nest Hub, and third-party apps such as Pokemon Go.

Notably, despite the outage, Google core search engine continued to run without a glitch, as did the third-party advertisements. Furthermore, many users reported to having their Google services work if they used them on a desktop browser in incognito mode. If anything, this only added to the confusion.
It didn’t take long for Google to jump into the action, though. The tech giant did not hesitate to acknowledge the issues with its services, and within an hour of this had all of its issues resolved. Once the services were back to normal, Google added special notices on each of its services that had stopped working – in order to assure users that everything was indeed back to normal.

According to Google Cloud Services, the outage happened because of an error in their identity management process. Apparently, a glitch in their automated quota management system had considerably reduced Google servers’ ability to verify users’ identities, thus causing them to display the 503 error. The problem indeed intensified to a state where all of Google’s services had gone down.

Effects of the outage were felt worldwide. Top software status monitoring platform DownDetector showed that the issue hit users in most (if not all) countries in the world. Reports were seen everywhere – including (but not limited to) Australia, Japan, India, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Argentina, and of course, the United States, which was by far the worst hit of them all.

Update on COVID-19 Contact Tracing App from Google and Apple

A few months ago, we discussed about the revolutionary partnership between Google and Apple. Both of the rival tech giants signed up to make an app to make COVID-19 contact tracing a more effective and efficient process. 

Contact tracing apps are not new as a concept, but they tend to have very low download rates. Take, for example, the state of Virginia, whose contact tracing app launched earlier this year was downloaded by a grand total of 11% of the state’s population. Google and Apple’s partnership solves this problem as both are heavily used in the US (and worldwide), and the app will be downloaded with a simple system update.

After a period of over 8 months (the original announcement was made in April 2020), the app’s much-hyped launch in California is finally happening. Officially called ‘CA Notify’ the app uses the contact tracing API added to both Android and iOS platforms in May. In can run on Android 6.0 phones and above, and iOS 14.2 and above, along with Bluetooth Low Energy. 

 

Basically, the app takes Bluetooth signals and uses them to send and receiving anonymous “keys” between mobile phones that are within Bluetooth range of each other. That way, when someone has been Covid-19, all the need to do is enter their test result into the app. Those phones that exchanged “keys” within 6 feet (or 2 meters) of the patient’s phone will automatically be alerted.

Those fretting over privacy concerns can rest easy too. Not only is the app fully secure, it is also entirely opt-in. Plus, it does not personally identify the phone’s owners, or even use any of the location data. All the communication is done through the unique “keys” that are shared over Bluetooth.

Launching the contact app statewide makes California the largest state to adopt the built-in technology – in terms of population. The reception here appears to be warmer than most too, perhaps in part because the state is home to the HQs of both Google and Apple, in general is known to be tech-savvier than most.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has high hopes with the app and has even made a statement in public on how he expects the state to have much better adoption rates – given the level of familiarity. They were also specially promoted by Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

The US states that are currently using this technology include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and District of Columbia.

Instead of having a single contact tracing app for the entire country, there is a basic app that is customized for each of the states that have decided to opt-in. The process starts with the state’s premier public health authority to sign up for the Exposure Notification API. The health authority will then create an Android app, and an iOS app tailor-made for their region that will support said notifications.

Have we quietly stepped into a new age of quantum computing technology?

According to reports, Google’s AI Quantum Group has achieved something that many thought could only be science fiction  -accomplishing “quantum supremacy”. Being able to reach levels of speed and accuracy that other machines, and their makers, could never fathom. If this has truly been achieved like it is being claimed, it is indeed a technological milestone and would change the way the world in ways that we cannot yet fully imagine.

It all started when a NASA lab/Google Partner accidentally posted an online report that Google physicists had managed what is unattainable using the world’s current supercomputers. Even though it seemed the milestone of quantum supremacy had been accomplished the create was still not a full-fledged quantum computer.

While both the tweet and the paper were subsequently taken down, screenshots and copies are, of course, still available and moving in various channels of the internet. Unsurprisingly, neither party has responded to any and all questions regarding the claims, sending the whole world into a frenzy of questions and theories and begging the fundamental question whether quantum computing really has been achieved.

While that is still – and will seemingly remain up in the air for some time, let’s know what quantum computing technology really is and why it is the biggest thing ever to happen in the world of science and technology.

What is Quantum Computing?

Essentially, quantum computing is a level of speed and efficiency of computing that even the best and fastest computer right now cannot work at. A breakthrough like none other, computers using this technology will be able to solve the most complex of problems (that could take years or even decades) and solve them in a much shorter span of time.

The general belief among the scientific community is that at least 49 qubits are necessary to enter into the realm of quantum supremacy. The notable factor, here, is that qubits function in a way that is very diverse from the “classical” computer’s bits. In case of bits, they exist either as a “1” or a “0.” Computers, therefore, read and work on a single bit during a particular period of time. Qubits, on the other hand, can show combination of “1” and “0” because of peculiar quantum effects where properties such as momentum, particle position, and direction, aren’t solidly defined. A system based on this principle, can therefore solve in multiple states at the same moment – a phenomenon known as quantum indeterminacy.

In simpler terms, quantum computers can read and process “1s” and a “0s” during the same span of time, allowing for faster and better processing of information and allowing the system to act on processed information in real time. This, of course, will speed up the computing process exponentially and allow for speeds much faster than that of the current “classical computers.”

What is Google’s Contribution?

Truth be told, we can never say what is what until we get an official confirmation from the tech giant itself. What we do know, however, is that Google has been the leader when it comes to computing hardware and proved it’s leadership again recently when it unveiled its 73-Qubit processor that put competitor IBM’s 53-Qubit in second place.

That being said, the leaked NASA paper reveals that Google actually used a different – and a 53-Qubit (albeit originally a 54-Qubit) processor called Sycamore to make its demonstrations. The first step of the demo involved a classical computer being used as a ‘simulator’ to generate quantum instructions known as ‘quantum gates,’ the quantum counterparts of the logic gates utilized in classical computers. These were then sent to the quantum computer that would perform exclusively on qubits in pure zero states, and finally made to output samples from the probability distribution obtained from performing on the qubits. This was later cross-checked by running the same operation through the classical computer’s format in order to compare and contrast results. Quite expectedly, Sycamore did take a considerably less amount of time and did not cross the error threshold.

The question that arose here was that if a classical computer could in fact do the same operation, could scientists not tweak them instead of moving to a whole new principle altogether? Not according to Google’s scientist, who clearly published in their research paper that it would take the world’s most advanced computer at least 10,000 years for a computer working on the classic principle to achieve what a quantum computer would do in 200 Seconds – clearly an unmatched competition.

Now, when Google did manage to bring a success case from its 53-Qubit, it would only be a matter of time till it would achieve a similar level of success with its 73-Qubit as well. But the question is – has that already been done? Until Google does come out with it in the open, we can only call it a likely possibility. Right now, it is of course undeniable that Google is indeed leading the pack with its findings, and that its experiment with the Sycamore has made a breakthrough when it comes to computing.

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