Risk Latte - Google, Googleplex and the universe of very large numbers

Google, Googleplex and the universe of very large numbers

Rahul Bhattacharya
March 21, 2011

It is surprising to learn that even many computer science students are not fully aware of how the name Google came about even though it is pretty well documented on the internet. I was having a chat with a group of computer science students recently and we got down to discussing the world’s largest eigenvalue problem. It was only a matter of time when someone asked, so how did the name Google come about?

The name “Google” is a gift of the American mathematician Edward Kasner and his nine year old nephew, Milton Sirotta. In 1940, Edward Kasner, a professor at Columbia University in New York co-wrote a book with James Newman called Mathematics and the Imagination where he introduced a very large number. The number was 1 followed by 100 zeros or 10 raised to the power of 100, i.e. . The name for this number was “Googol”. In 1938, Kasner’s nine year old nephew Milton Sirotta coined the term “Googol” to denote this number. The kid then coined the term “Googolplex” to denote and even larger number, which was 10 raised to the power of “googol”. This was an unimaginably large number.

These numbers are so large that it is not even possible to comprehend them. The entire visible universe is not enough to hold these numbers. For example, there are atoms and photons of light in the entire visible universe which has a length of around cm across.

The founders of the company Google, Larry Page and Sergei Brinn learnt about this name, “Googol”, from their fellow graduate student Sean Andersen at Stanford.

Google is a misspelling of the name “Googol”. In 1996, Sean Andresen suggested to Larry Page that “Googolplex” would be a great name for the website and the search engine that Page and Brinn had developed to map the large number of interconnections between different pages containing common words and citations on the internet. Page shortened this name to Googol.

It seems that Andersen in his rush to check whether the domain name googol.com was available he mistyped the name as google.com and found that it was still available. Sergei Brinn liked the name Google better than the original Googol and they took that name for their search engine. The rest is of course, history.

As we all know that the headquarters of the company Google is known as Googleplex.

David Koller, a friend of Larry Page and Sergei Brinn, has explained the genesis of the name Google on his website.

Reference:  http://graphics.stanford.edu/~dk/google_name_origin.html
The Book of Universes by John D. Barrow

© Rahul Bhattacharya
This column is written by Rahul Bhattacharya and reflects his own views about life and business. It does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other members of Risk Latte Company Limited, Hong Kong (“the Company”) and the Company accepts no responsibility for any factual errors contained in the column and strongly advises readers not to pay much attention to it.

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