Jul 022011

Yesterday, Intel lost the bid for the patent assets of defunct Canadian company Nortel, despite joining forces with Google.

Google bid some odd amounts; for instance, at one point they bid $1,902,160,540.

The digits happen to be those of Brun’s constant: B2 = 1.90216058…

Brun’s constant is the sum of the reciprocals of twin primes. B2 = (1/3 + 1/5) + (1/5 + 1/7) + (1/11 + 1/13) + … According to Brun’s theorem, this sum converges. The limit of the sum is Brun’s constant.

A professor of mathematics named Thomas Nicely once used a group of computers to calculate twin primesup to 1e14, computing Brun’s constant among other things.

At one point, Nicely’s computations failed. After eliminating other sources of error, Nicely concluded that the problem was a fault in the new Pentium processors present in some recently acquired computers in the group.

Nicely notified Intel, but it wasn’t until after a public relations disaster that Intel finally responded the way they should have in the first place, offering to replace all affected processors. This cost Intel $475 million.

Who knows, if they still had that extra $475 million cash in their pockets, they could have bid more and won yesterday.

 Posted by at 10:21 pm