Too much pi?

As previously noted in this blog, there are a lot of big numbers floating around in the world of science, writes Tim Gillett.

Today it was announced (and reported in our Research Information publication) that an employee of Google in Japan has managed to calculate pi – the number you get if you divide a circle’s circumference by its diameter – to an astonishing 31 trillion decimal places, give or take a few hundred billion.

The news was released today to coincide with Pi Day (14 March, or 3.14 – the first three digits of pi), and the calculation has been recognised by Guinness World Records. Unsurprisingly, the story has gained a lot of traction on the world’s media – clearly something of a publicity coup for Google Cloud!

My question is this: does such a calculation serve any real purpose?

Using 3.14 as a value for pi is roughly half a percent away from its true value, while pi calculated to five decimal places gets you to within 0.000084 percent of ‘absolute’ pi. Even NASA only uses 16 digits for the programmes that control spacecraft – so is a sum of this magnitude actually of any use?

Either way, the thought of such calculations is sending me pi-eyed.

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