9 Billion Names of God

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9 Billion Names of God

Postby Brightonian » Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:53 am

I'm assuming everyone's intimately familiar with this story. Since the LHC has signally failed to destroy the world, I've been thinking about Arthur C Clarke's technique of listing all the names of God. I'm a bit worried though that his algorithm is under-specified. For one thing, he seems to have picked the figure of 9bn out of the air - obviously the total number of strings depends on the size of the alphabet, which isn't given. For comparison, Hebrew and "Enochian" have 22 characters, Tibetan has 34, while Chinese and Japanese scripts have many more. Also it's not clear that 9 characters will be enough, as Jewish mystical tradition for instance has many names which are far longer than that - unless you use a "syllabic" script perhaps. And I've been wondering if it's enough to write the names to an array on disk rather than print them, which may be feasible now that we have terabyte drives. But I'm a bit shaky on complexity theory so I'm not sure how to calculate how long it would take, even if these other issues could be resolved. Any ideas?
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Re: 9 Billion Names of God

Postby admin » Mon Jan 25, 2010 9:42 am

One important thing to remember is that Sir Arthur is a Brit, so his billion is a million million, a US trillion, 10 to the 12, which is the number of 12 letter words in a 10 letter alphabet, so his estimate is not that far off. Also, if I remember correctly, there were restrictions (i before e except after c ??? :), not every string was a name of God. It would take a computer a while to make the calculation at the time the story was written. With today's terraflop computers, I don't think it would take very long at all.

There is a problem in printing it out. Assume a thousand words a page, with pages bound into books, with a thousand pages per book, we need a million books, all different. Not impossible, but difficult, especially since paper needs to be carried by porters up a twisty mountain road.
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Re: 9 Billion Names of God

Postby Brightonian » Mon Jan 25, 2010 12:11 pm

Actually nowadays we use "billion" to mean 10^9, but the old usage would certainly have prevailed at the time he wrote the story. One of the restrictions was that no character could occur more than three times consecutively - not unreasonable, since German for example allowed words like Betttuch (Bett "bed" + Tuch "cloth" = "sheet") until the recent spelling reforms.

I agree, printing would be the problem. Maybe God can't read display screens...
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