Microsoft Research Reclaims Value of Pi

pi-techFACT: Educators in the state of Alabama are chafing as the state celebrates a dubious anniversary: today marks ten years since the Alabama state legislature voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159… to the “Biblical value” of 3.0.  Ramifications were felt across the state. 
Now, a team of Microsoft Research computer scientists have announced success in a groundbreaking effort to refactor the Biblical value, using modern high-performance computing hardware and machine-translation technologies on the original Old Testament texts.
ANALYSIS:  Looking back, an April 1998 issue of Science and Reason newsletter written by physicist Mark Boslough recounts the political and cultural battles which went behind the Alabama legislative change. The legislature of the “Yellowhammer State” justified the change by citing biblical injunction. As one supporter put it: “the Bible very clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the altar font of Solomon’s Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was round in compass.”

The use of “3.0” as the value of pi led to problems in schools, businesses, and local scientific pursuits, including a group of frustrated engineers at the NASA research facility in Huntsville.  According to NASA/Huntsville’s director of special projects “Dr.” Jim Simon (doctorate pending), “We had strayed from using our Microsoft software and instead had been trying to figure out how to use an advanced Google search platform, which was sold to us as a powerful Cloud Computing system.”

Unfortunately, that effort proved frustrating for the “rocket scientists” any time they used calculations involving pi, based on the Alabama-standard value of 3.0, mostly because they were under the mistaken impression that they were contractually barred from using Cloud Computing on any sunny days. Given the hospitable local weather that left them unable to use their computers for an average of 290 days each year.

Simon also admitted that his team had initially purchased the Google solution based on a misunderstanding of basic terminology. “We had heard of Web 2.0, but we thought we were using Web 3.0, which would make it that much better.”

A series of disturbing and sometimes comical mistakes ensued, costing NASA some $650 million in cost overruns, seven “missing space monkeys,” and eventually leading to a request to Microsoft for assistance.

Microsoft Research agreed late last year to sponsor the bold initiative to recapture mathematical constancy and pi’s local utility for “the Heart of Dixie.”

Microsoft Research used cutting-edge semantic-analysis techniques to ascertain that the “round in compass” phrase was actually an allusion to the advantages of using proprietary calculating methods, as opposed to the then popular “open” approach of drawing round figures in sand.

In addition, it was determined that “cubits” had actually been mistranslated as a unit of measure, when in actuality it should more accurately be understood as a unit of cost, referring to a recurring license owed on the use of the altar.

According to spokeswoman Ms. April Fools, final calculations allowed Microsoft to determine the “true-up value of pi” to be a definitive 3.141999, or as expressed in company literature, “Three easy payments of 1.047333.”

Simon points out that there is one remaining question mark over the new pi value: reconciling the ten-years worth of NASA calculations which relied on the 3.0 value, with the newer, slightly higher value. “We need to do some additional research on that missing differential, to find cases where the slight variance makes a difference. We’re combing through our work now to find that slice of pi.”

For more info, see the official NASA Huntsville website.


[Click here for the 2009 April Fool’s Column]

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21 Responses

  1. This is exactly why religion and science should never intertwine. Each is a separate entity and is best not crossing path.

  2. Hello,

    The Bible doesn’t set the value of pi. You just leap to that conclusion.

    The diameter was measured from brim to brim; so clearly it had a brim. If the circumference was measured without the brim, that would mean the brim was about 4″.

    The problem is not that you’re not smart enough to figure this out. It’s more that you desperately don’t want the Bible to be true. You don’t want to have to submit your life to your Creator, much less be judged by Him for every thought word and deed in your life.


  3. April Fools…

  4. A response to Bill’s comment above: Bill, thanks for reading, but note the date – no, I don’t actually believe that the value of pi is even discussed in the Bible. Like Einstein, I believe God had a subtle and magnificent plan when He created all things – including the human sense of humor. best regards – lewis

  5. Here in N.C. where good schooling is a given, we have two values for pi……..first there is the traditional pi as sanctioned and used by Einstein in various formulae at 3.14167 ad infinitim, and then there is “pie”, as sanctioned by all us “Wolfpackers” and “Tar Heels”, and used in various divisional processes at 4.0, as in “slices”, and as noted by that great mathematician, a graduate of Duke University School of Engineering, Pi R not square, Pie are round, thus the need for the use of the correct value!!!

  6. Pi is discussed in the bible and the quote is at that place (I checked). However, I think it was a translation mistake and that the original Hebrew probably says “approximately 30 cubits”, since you can’t really measure a cylinders diametre in cubits due to the existence of a bone running the length of your forearm ,preventing it from bending around the curvature.

  7. […] making that post my second-most-read in the short history of Shepherds Pi. (The most-read has been my April Fool’s edition lampooning MSR’s quest for a new value of Pi itself, which was featured on Wikipedia and a […]


  9. Absolutely Phenomenal. Now I don’t have to worry about remembering the exact translation of 3.14 repeating. I just need to pack up my rhomboids, cylindars, and triangulars and head to the sate of Alabama.

  10. […] On April 1, 2008, an executive at Microsoft Research said his team had determined the true value of pi to be “a definitive 3.141999, or as expressed in […]

  11. […] On April 1, 2008, an executive at Microsoft Research said his team had determined the true value of pi to be “a definitive 3.141999, or as expressed in […]

  12. […] After leaving government and setting up MSI, Jim hired some of the best and brightest from senior government roles for the Institute (and, grading on the curve, hired me as well). We’ve had a lot of fun in the past few years.  The pictures on this page are from trips he and I took together, for example, examining Microsoft Research in various corners. And I’ve enjoyed tweaking him and his Alabama ways once or twice here on ShepherdsPi (see the April Fool’s classic “Microsoft Research Reclaims Value of Pi“). […]

  13. […] to many open mathematical questions, maybe even such as P=NP, not even mentioning calculations of digits of pi etc.. The computer started running the same minute, LHC provided its first collisions. There are […]

  14. […] Shepherd在自己的個人博客上來了一個圓周率事件十週年加強版,再續了這段荒謬的故事。Lewis […]

  15. Thanmk you a bunch for sharing this with alll of us you really
    know what you are speaking approximately!

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  16. Nice info.

  17. […] Shepherd在自己的个人博客上来了一个 圆周率事件十周年加强版 ,再续了这段荒谬的故事。Lewis […]

  18. To
    Professors of the world
    Till now we have been accepting Exhaustion method of Archimedes as perfect and error – free in computing pi is less than 22/7. Hence pi is 3.14159265358.. But it is proved his method is wrong .
    I would think this news would be discussed in the departmental seminar .

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Mathematician Vitthal Jadhav
    Date: Sun, Aug 6, 2017 at 9:31 PM
    Subject: Re: 117 Method on Cosmic Pi
    To: Sarva Jagannadha Reddy

    Mistakes in the #Archimedes #pi value computed by using Method of exhaustion.
    (Issues with Traditional Pi (#π) )
    Assume circle, now draw the square inscribed in given circle,
    the perimeter of square is clearly less than circumference,
    Now if we increase side, draw regular hexagon with the given circle then difference between perimeter of hexagon & circumference will be reduced. Archimedes by using basic instrument like compass bisected each side of hexagon & obtained 12 point equally spaced on curved path of circle, join them & constructed regular dodecagon, in this way he continued this process. He calculated perimeter of regular polygon with 96 side & came to conclusion that the value of pi lies between
    3 + 10/71 < π < 3 + 10/70,
    i.e. 3.140845 < π infinity)
    then delta tends to 0,

    Now perimeter = n * (side of polygon i.e. AB)
    Circumference = n * (Arc AB)
    Error = n * ((Arc AB ) – (Side AB))
    = n * delta
    we clearly see, as n -> infinity , delta -> zero
    but error doesn’t tend to zero as
    it is “n * delta” becomes indeterminate

    Archimedes method assumes error become insignificant.

    This gives the reason – why cosmic pi = 3.146 given by Indian Professor R S Reddy (Sarva Jagannadha Reddy – We can call him as “PI Man” ) differ from traditional π = 3.1459 approximately by 0.004

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