Thursday, March 14, 2019

A really, really long, but totally useless, number

In the annals of impressive but useless pursuits of scientific endeavour, a recent achievement by Japanese Google employee Emma Haruko ranks pretty high. Ms. Haruko has just calculated the value of pi (π) to 31.4 trillion decimal places (Hmm. 31.4? Coincidence? I think not). This handily beats out the previous record holder, which achieved a paltry 22 trillion digits. Google made the announcement on, you guessed it, Pi day (3/14).
You probably know that pi is an infinite non-repeating decimal (technically a transcendental irrational number), and you probably know that it starts with 3.14. You might even know that the next few digits are 159, but not many people know the next 31 trillion digits. Ms. Haruko's calculation required about 170 TB of data (the equivalent of around 34 million music songs, if that helps with your visualization), and took 25 virtual machines 121 days to complete. It would take over 332,000 years to actually say the resulting number.
And how is this increased accuracy useful? Not at all. Pi itself, as a concept, is very useful in all sorts of mathematical, engineering applications. But, as far as I can see, this new refinement is  the mathematical equivalent of vanity plates - just really, really expensive ones. So, thanks, Emma. Thanks, Google.

No comments: