The VICE Channels

    This Is What Pi Looks Like

    Written by

    Lara Heintz

    Associate Producer

    Last year, a programmer from Japan and a 23- year old student from Northwestern continued humanity’s obsession with pi when they successfully computed the 10 trillionth digit of the never ending number. Now, two interactive designers from TWO-N, Inc. based in New York City have decided to pay tribute to this gigantic feat by creating an interactive, color coded, and searchable visual representation of pi. Hilariously, even with all our technological advances in interactive design, the clickable display is only able to represent a number so large it would take an average person 158,000 years to recite every last known digit, up to a measly 4 million digits. That’s 4 million out of ten trillion.

    Pi at ten thousand digits, via FastCo. Design

    Still the idea of being able to visually represent mathematical digits and make them searchable is not only really appealing but has some interesting implications for the way we think about math, which inherently lends itself to visual representation, since most mathematical computations are inherently just representations of relationships anyways, and visuals allow for a different sort of detection of patterns and relationships.

    Visual representation of the geometrical phenomena of the cross cap

    Since the advent of the ability to execute complicated computations from the 1970’s onwards, and the ability to program visuals based on algorithms (which are just glorified mathematical logics anyways) the idea of visually representing mathematical computation has had a relatively seamless transition into our social diaspora. Take these images from the Math Images Project, which provide new insight into the nature of different mathematical theories, and are weirdly hypnotizing and hauntingly beautiful.

    Visual representation of the iterated fractal function, known as the Harter Highway Dragon

    TWO-N’s visualization of pi is different from the traditional visualization of mathematical principle in that it takes it’s cues more from traditional graphic design and color coded keys than it does from hacking and programming. Still, aside from both loosely resembling complicated Magic Eyes, both types of manifestations of numbers and digits provide key insights into what math actually IS, that is a complicated system of digits and relationships that feel more at home on a grid than in an algebra text book.

    Visual representation of Markus-Lyapunov fractals

    And there’s the added bonus that these new pi visualizations make for the ideal birthday or graduation present. You can print it on a mug. Or a t-shirt. Hell, you can even search for your BIRTHDAY in the number pi and print it on a bedspread. I found mine. Looks like I’m going to be getting some wallpaper.