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Google team breaks Guinness World Record for most accurate value of pi

By Adam Pockross
 A Pi Day pie from Reilly's Bakery in Biddeford at Biddeford High School

If there’s a more exciting math concept than pi, then we’ve not heard of it. Certainly there’s not another one with a more celebrated day to call its own: 3/14, aka today, aka Pi Day. What a day!

You’re not the only one sharing our numerical enthusiasm today — the geniuses at Google are celebrating Pi Day with “a new milestone,” according to a company blog, by breaking the Guinness World Record for calculating the most accurate value of pi. Now that’s how you party!

For those who stopped paying attention as soon as Ms. Johnson opened her mouth back in middle school, the mathematical constant pi (π) expresses the “ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter,” whose first three digits are always 3.14. But since it’s an irrational number, “there’s no end to how many of its digits can be calculated.”

But that certainly hasn’t stopped people, particularly Googler Emma Haruka Iwao, from trying to figure out as many of pi’s remaining digits as possible. So many in fact, that she now proudly holds the Guinness World Record for most calculated digits of pi: 31,415,926,535,897 digits. 

That’s a heckuva lot of digits, which she was able to calculate using Google Compute Engine, powered by Google Cloud — the first time the cloud has been used for such serious pi baking. Below, Iwao explains precisely how…

Besides breeding “healthy competition,” the search for more pi digits also helps smart people test supercomputers, which we’re sure the world needs more of. But you also need some supercomputing power to make such hefty calculations. 

“The biggest challenge with pi is that it requires a lot of storage and memory to calculate,” says Iwao, whose calculation required 170 terabytes of data to complete, about the same amount of data as the Library of Congress’ print collections hold. Then it took 121 days of baking for the virtual machines to complete the calculation.

Of course, Google’s got a bunch of smarties on their team, which we fully appreciate, and wish them all the best in finding ever more digits. But it takes a whole new level of geek to tell you the best mentions of pi in the Star Trek universe, which we hope you’ll also enjoy today along with a slice of key lime, or apple, or perhaps even chocolate silk.