// new media class

Florian Born — Mechanical Pi — In memory of William Shanks

Techno Legacy — Summer 2014

The mathematician William Shanks sacrificed years of his spare time to the decimal expansion of the irrational number pi by hand. In 1873 he published his handwritten calculations to the 707th digit. Much to his regret, in 1945, D.F. Ferguson proved that only the first 527 decimal places have been calculated correctly. Nowadays Shanks tedious manual task is done with the help of computer algebra, performing millions of steps in fragments of a second, while calculating billions of decimal places. Mechanical PI is a computing machine replacing this repetitive algorithm back into a physical, mechanical language. A constant rotation, pressing and repeating the calculator’s keys, approaching the number Pi, yet never reaching it …

The machine utilizes the Leibniz formula for pi which is an infinite series of additions and subtractions of quotients. Each subsequent denominator in this series is the sum of the previous one plus two, starting with the value one. With this being the only variable expression and the possibility to store values in the calculators memory, the formula can be expressed as a repetitive keystroke combination activated by circular motion.

In collaboration with David Friedrich.