What are a googol and a googolplex?

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Chapter Math Basics

The “googol” is the invention of Milton Sirotta, the eight-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner (1878–1955), who once asked the young boy to name the number 1 followed by 100 zeros (10 to the 100th power or 10100). It is also seen as “10 duotrigintillion” on the short scale, and ten thousand sexdecillion on the long scale (for more about scales, see elsewhere in this chapter). Since a googol is an incredibly large number, there is little it can represent. Although one might think it would represent some collection of astronomical entities, such as the number of elementary particles in the universe, it does not. Scientists estimate only about 10 to the 80th power (1080) such particles exist. Googol was soon followed by googolplex, a name thought to be invented by Kasner, and said to equal 10 to the power of googol (or 1 followed by 10 to the power of 100 zeros or one followed by a googol of zeros).

No one has ever seen such large numbers printed out. And although it is true that computer processing power doubles about every one to two years—and the use of computer networks across the Internet even faster—it is still too early to print the number represented by a googol or a googolplex. Thus, many ask why begin at all, since attempts to do so will soon be overtaken by faster processors? In fact, it is estimated that it will take another 500 years before such an endeavor is achieved—but with the advancement of computer processing, in ten years, the number of years will no doubt be even less.


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