Sunday, January 3, 2021

Googol, Google and Isaac Asimov

I have been a huge fan of Isaac Asimov's fiction since I was a youngster. I have read all his Robot series and Foundation series books and many of his short stories. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak at our university when I was an undergraduate student. In one of his (many) non-fiction books he wrote that 

"For instance, in a book entitled Mathematics and the Imagination (published in 1940) the authors, Edward Kasner and James Newman, introduced a number called the `googol,' which is good and large and which was promptly taken up by writers of books and articles on popular mathematics. Personally, I think it is an awful name, but the young child of one of the authors invented it, and what could a proud father do? Thus, we are afflicted forever with that baby-talk number."

Asimov passed away in 1992, 6 years before Google was founded and before the internet is woven into the fabric of our lives, ranging from communication to entertainment to commerce. As is well known, Google chose the name as a play-on-words of the word googol. I wonder what Asimov would have thought of the fact that a word derived from the "baby-talk" word is the name of one of the largest technology companies on the planet and is also used to denote the act of finding out information via the vast information source that is the World Wide Web, technological developments that I am sure he would have love to see.

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