Ramblings & ephemera

Google’s number tricks

From “Fuzzy maths” (The Economist: 11 May 2006):

MATHEMATICALLY confident drivers stuck in the usual jam on highway 101 through Silicon Valley were recently able to pass time contemplating a billboard that read: “{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com.” The number in question, 7427466391, is a sequence that starts at the 101st digit of e, a constant that is the base of the natural logarithm. The select few who worked this out and made it to the right website then encountered a “harder” riddle. Solving it led to another web page where they were finally invited to submit their curriculum vitae.

If a billboard can capture the soul of a company, this one did, because the anonymous advertiser was Google, whose main product is the world’s most popular internet search engine. With its presumptuous humour, its mathematical obsessions, its easy, arrogant belief that it is the natural home for geniuses, the billboard spoke of a company that thinks it has taken its rightful place as the leader of the technology industry, a position occupied for the past 15 years by Microsoft. …

To outsiders, however, googley-ness often implies audacious ambition, a missionary calling to improve the world and the equation of nerdiness with virtue.

The main symptom of this, prominently displayed on the billboard, is a deification of mathematics. Google constantly leaves numerical puns and riddles for those who care to look in the right places. When it filed the regulatory documents for its stockmarket listing in 2004, it said that it planned to raise $2,718,281,828, which is $e billion to the nearest dollar. A year later, it filed again to sell another batch of shares – precisely 14,159,265, which represents the first eight digits after the decimal in the number pi (3.14159265). …

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