Archimedes The number of grains of sand on a beach has often been the analogy of choice when trying to express the notion of something enormous to the point of being practically beyond comprehension and imagination. Most famously, Carl Sagan said that there are more stars in our Universe than there are grains of sand in all the beaches on Earth, a statement that has spouted many online commentators debating whether he was right or wrong. However Sagan was by no means the first to refer to sand in order to explain the enormity of the universe. The Ancient Greek polymath Archimedes, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and so on, fed-up of people resorting to infinity as a cop-out to dealing with large, but otherwise finite numbers, invented a new counting system. In an essay addressed to the King Gelon of Syracuse, titled The Sand Reckoner, he proposed a system based on powers of 10 which was capable of describing unimaginably large numbers, including the number of grains of sand that could be fit in the entire universe – (He estimated this to be 8×1063).

This is the only dip into ancient Greek mathematics to be found in this blog. The rest of the site is dedicated to musings, news and reflections on the currently much-hyped Internet of Things phenomenon. The defining characteristic of the Internet of Things is the explosion of connected devices, sensors, objects, appliances that technology now makes possible, and the corresponding explosion in the volume of data produced by all of these. Thus the Internet of Things is often discussed in conjunction, with that other equally -hyped term – Big Data. What has not been over-hyped is the fact that the number of devices as well as the amount of data generated will significantly dwarf what has been produced by the Internet of People. Whether or not there will be more IPv6 addresses or MB of data produced than the number of grains of sand Archimedes thought would fit into the entire Universe will remain an unanswered question. At least for the time being.

For the full text see here.

Simon Fabri


(thanks to Alex at ESA for spotting the typo!)

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