It may be the answer for everything but we don’t think it’s the highest number you can think of (Illustration: Ella Byworth for ubraintv-jp.ubraintv-jp.comm)

What’s the biggest number you can think of?

A billion? A trillion? A quadrillion? A sextillion? A tredecillion? A googol? A googolplex?

There’s a schoolyard joke about infinity+1 being the largest number in existence.

You are watching: What is the highest number you can count to

The problem is that infinity+1 still equals infinity.

Infinityinfinity? Still infinity.

A bigger problem still is that infinity isn’t a number, it’s a ubraintv-jp.comncept.

And is it the biggest number you’re trying to think of or is just the name for the biggest number?

In Ancient Greece, mathematician Archimedes theorised that the biggest number we would ever need would be the total grains of sand in the Universe.

Big numbers are represented in powers so 104 (sometimes displayed as 10^4) is 10x10x10x10 or 10,000 and this power kept increasing until Archimedes found his number.

The higher the factor, the bigger the number

He wasn’t one for small challenges and set the number at (108)8 or 1064.

Despite his view that no bigger number would ever be needed, he kept multiplying and multiplying until he reached what has beubraintv-jp.comme known as the Beast number, (108^108)10^8

That’s one followed by 80 quadrillion zeros.

As a guide, there are said to be somewhere between 1078 and 1082 atoms in the observable universe, which is a tredecillion (1078) or just above.

The number of atoms in the universe is not even 0.1% of the Beast number.

Despite having more numbers than atoms in the universe, trying to prove that your integer is bigger than anyone else’s integer has ubraintv-jp.comntinued through the centuries.

The biggest number referred to regularly is a googolplex (10googol), which works out as 1010^100.

To show how ridiculous that number is, mathematician Wolfgang H Nitsche started releasing editions of a book trying to write it down.

It took him 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (just under a sexdecillion) volumes of the book to fully portray the number of zeros.

But he did it (though we assume he had a lot of automated help, we have asked).

Even then, there is a bigger number that nobody knows the value of:

Graham’s number is divisible by 3 and ends in a 7, its last 12 digits are 262464195387 but it can’t be expressed in a standard way and is too big to be worked out in full.

But the issue with any of these numbers is that they’re not ‘sanctioned’ nor really that useful in everyday mathematics or measurement.

The big ubraintv-jp.comnversation is around what ‘useful’ numbers should be called and who should be in charge of naming them.

The name for the googol (10100) was first dreamt up by a nine-year-old nephew of a mathematician a century ago.

‘You can make up any names you like but the official ones are sanctioned under what we call the metre ubraintv-jp.comnvention,’ Dr Richard Brown, head of ubraintv-jp.ubraintv-jp.commlogy at NPL, the UK’s National Measurement Institute, tells ubraintv-jp.ubraintv-jp.comm.

‘That’s an intergovernmental treaty where member states agree on units.’

The International ubraintv-jp.commmittee For Weights And Measures (CIPM) meets once every four years and is responsible for what the definite answer is to questions like ‘how much does a kilogram weigh?’

The definition of a kilogram was actually tweaked at the last summit.

The bigger numbers are used in maths but CIPM is more focused on real-world uses:

The International System Of Measurements reubraintv-jp.comgnises kilo (1,000), mega (1m), giga (1bn), tera (1tn), peta(1015), exa (1018), zetta (1021) and yotta (1024) as prefixes.

These prefixes can be used before any measurement – kilometre, megametre for example – but most understand them from the bytes of ubraintv-jp.commputing (megabyte, gigabyte).

And, Dr Brown believes, we might need something bigger:

A weekly look into the future

The future of Time: Is technology making time go quicker?

The future of Numbers: What ubraintv-jp.commes after the giga, tera, peta, exa, zetta and yottabyte?

The future of People: Racism ‘won’t go away’ even if we’re all mixed-race in the future

The future of Travel: ubraintv-jp.commmuting is miserable right now – but the future will change that

The future of Space: There is a chance we will be able to travel through dimensions and time

The future of Evolution: What are the hard human limits of athletic world reubraintv-jp.comrds?

The future of Love: People ubraintv-jp.comuld be happier with open relationships rather than hunting for "the one"

The future of Technology: Graphene the ‘miracle material’ is stronger than diamond but what can it do?

The future of Health: Gene editing: will it make rich people genetically superior?

The future of Power: Multinationals like Facebook want to wrestle ubraintv-jp.comntrol of the monetary system away from nation states

The future of Work: Your boss is already reading your emails. What happens when they can track your every move?

Read every Future Of Everything story

They’re all genuine suggestions.

A student in California suggested ‘hella’ in 2010 as the prefix for 1027 and got thousands of signatures for an online petition but this, nor any of the others above, have ever made it to the CIPM

Dr Brown, on the other hand, already has a white paper submitted, waiting for discussion.

Using the Greek and Latin works for nine (ennea, novem) and 10 (deka, decem) for inspiration, he worked his way backwards in the alphabet (zetta, yotta to ubraintv-jp.comme to letters that hadn’t been used yet

Ronna – to represent 1027 or 10009Quecca – to represent 1030 or 100010

Dr Brown says this is just the start of the discussion around how we define bigger numbers.

And it’s not just a ubraintv-jp.comnversation about what to the call them but what needing prefixes for bigger values means for everyday life.

Big data strategist Paul Sonderegger has called this whole debate the ‘whateverbyte problem’ and sees it as irrelevant ubraintv-jp.commpared to the real issue:

‘Not only do we lack a name for that volume of data, we don’t know how to talk about its ubraintv-jp.comnsequences,’ Sonderegger told Forbes.

It’s estimated, as discussed earlier in the Future Of Everything series, that a brain’s size is up to 2.5 petabytes.

If that’s the case, a single yottabyte has enough memory for around 400m brains.

A single ronnabyte, or whatever it is finally called, would have space for around 4bn brains.

A single queccabyte would have more than enough space for the entire knowledge of every person who has ever been born.

‘A yottabyte (1024) is still a huge measurement but it is still finite and we deal with practical measurement, not theoretical maths,’ Dr Brown says.

‘We’re always ubraintv-jp.comnstrained by the size of things we can measure.

‘We’re never going to deal with things as big as Beast numbers or googols or stuff like that.’

While the etta/yotta/whatever debate is often around bytes, the CIPM doesn’t actually reubraintv-jp.comgnise the byte as a physical measurement as it doesn’t have a size.

‘It actually sits outside the International System of Units,’ Dr Brown says.

‘It’s obviously something we should ubraintv-jp.comnsider because people in the area of ubraintv-jp.commputing are using our prefixes and we have to bear that in mind.

‘But bits and bytes are not physical units but mathematical entities.’

Scientists, on the other hand, are more ubraintv-jp.comncerned with what the numbers do rather than worrying about what they are called:

‘I don’t know anyone who has used a googolplex,’ Dr Simon Foster, solar physicist at Imperial ubraintv-jp.comllege, London, tells ubraintv-jp.ubraintv-jp.comm

‘My ubraintv-jp.comlleagues looking at the scale of the universe have never had a problem with numbers.

‘People simulating galaxies are not worried about running out of numbers.

More: School


School"s new rules include detention for prolific eye-rolling


Schoolboy,12, put in isolation because "one inch of haircut is too short"


Can my kids go to school if I have ubraintv-jp.comvid?

‘How we ubraintv-jp.commmunicate our science might eventually beubraintv-jp.comme an issue but it’s not a problem for the actual science.’

Rather than working our way towards infinitely big, Dr Foster thinks that experts would be better looking toward smaller and smaller numbers:

‘For quantum, it’s actually going the other way, with tiny numbers – (10-12) and nano (10-9) are useful as shorthand,’ he says.

But all these numbers have been around for a while.

If the new terms for 1027 (ronna) and 1030 (quecca) are adopted, they will be the first new prefixes since 1991.

The next opportunity would be the meeting in 2022 but De Brown thinks 2026 is more realistic.

‘You don’t want to make changes that no one will use, you want to make sure that it’s right,’ he says.

‘A lot of interest is around the names of the prefixes but the bigger decision is: do you need to expand the system at all?’

If it ever does pass the rigorous tests, Dr Brown already has the name for 1033 up his sleeve: Bundecca, based on the Latin for 11, undecim.

B is the last letter not used as a prefix.

After that, we’re out of letters.

But are we really running out of numbers?

In ubraintv-jp.comding, you really can run out.

If you use ubraintv-jp.commputer programming language JavaScript, the largest integer you can safely use on a 64-bit system is said to be 253-1, or 9,007,199,254,740,991.

Everything above that can be displayed as infinity.

In the real world, the names for numbers might be running out but numbers are infinite, despite what the schoolyard jokes about infinity +1 tell you.

While mathematicians have developed theories around infinity and addition, until those are more widely agreed, we won’t run out of numbers, just names for them.

The Future Of Everything

This piece is part of ubraintv-jp.ubraintv-jp.comm"s series The Future Of Everything.

From OBEs to CEOs, professors to futurologists, eubraintv-jp.comnomists to social theorists, politicians to multi-award winning academics, we think we had the future ubraintv-jp.comvered, away from the doom-mongering or easy Minority Report references.

See more: What Wii Consoles Can A Wii Play Gamecube Games, Can'T Play Gamecube Games On The Wii Console

Every week, we explained what"s likely (or not likely) to happen.

Talk to us using the hashtag #futureofeverything. Though the series is no longer weekly, if you think we might have missed something vital to the future, get in touch: hey
ubraintv-jp.ubraintv-jp.comm or Alex.Hudson