Ross: AWS outage a reminder of how much control we’ve surrendered to technology

Dec 8, 2021, 6:48 AM | Updated: 12:00 pm

AWS outage, servers, technology...

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

There’s a website called Down Detector that monitors internet outages. Yesterday, its U.S. Internet map started blinking red – especially in Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston.

A problem with Amazon’s massive cloud operation – Amazon Web Services – was preventing millions of people from logging on. This didn’t just affect Amazon drivers, many of whom had to be sent home because they couldn’t access their delivery lists. It also affected hospitals, pharmacies, universities, the Wall Street Journal – basically anyone whose computer services were hosted by the affected servers on the East Coast.

Because so many people are now automating their personal lives, it also affected thermostats, doorbells, and even Roomba vacuums stopped working.

I immediately thought to myself – interesting this should happen on the day Joe Biden told Vladimir Putin not to mess with Ukraine!

I quickly dismissed that thought as too paranoid.

Still, it is another reminder that the more control you surrender to a centralized technology, the more helpless you will be when it fails. Considering all power-hungry tyrants who would really love to see us fail, screwups like this tell me it would be way too easy for them to pull it off.

I don’t expect perfection, even from Amazon, and it’s not the apocalypse if the Roomba doesn’t work … but when you can’t get a drug prescription, or your groceries can’t get delivered, or you can’t access your investments, or your money transfer service doesn’t work, that’s too close to real life.

There was a time when – if you had to – you could fix your own car, or build your own radio. Heck, when I was 15, I was wiring my own phone taps (worked great until the phone company showed up one day and pulled it out).

But I’ll say it again, the next big innovation needs to be technology that ordinary people can fix themselves. This should be the next challenge for America’s silicon geniuses, most of whom live right here in Seattle.

Have you noticed how gun enthusiasts can take apart and put together a gun in 10 seconds? That’s how our phones should be. I want to be able to swap out a broken screen or a dead battery or a melted microprocessor in 10 seconds in the middle of a Zoom call.

The same should go for those big servers. If they go down, you shouldn’t have to call the Geek Squad – the custodian should be able to put down his mop, pull out the old unit and plug in the new one, just like a NASCAR pit stop. Now that would be a technological accomplishment.

Russia may not be to blame here, but I know they’re watching, and I’m worried they like what they see.

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Ross: AWS outage a reminder of how much control we’ve surrendered to technology