One Person's Trivial Is Another Person's Life Work


Running the following command in Haskell gives the natural log of the integers 1-1000. It runs in about a millisecond.

map (logBase 10) [1..1000]

The same result, published by John Napier and Henry Briggs in 1617 as Logarithmorum Chilias Prima (“The First Thousand Logarithms”), took at least 2 years.

Over the next 200 years, logarithms of the integers 1-200,000 were computed. Calculating a logarithm to 7 decimal places (or in some of the more ambitious cases, up to 24) takes about an hour (that’s a wild guess. It could be much longer or shorter for all I know). That works out to 200,000 hours, or almost 23 years of nonstop work. At an 8 hour work day every day (no breaks in this business), that’s about 69 years, a few decades past someone’s working lifetime.

And now some procrastinating college student took less than a second to do the same thing. Really makes me wonder what’ll be considered trivial in 2 centuries that’s intractable now.

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