When Google Has More Computing Power Than NASA, We Need To Rethink Our Attitude

When Google Has More Computing Power Than NASA, We Need To Rethink Our Attitude

Neil Armstrong’s death on the weekend has everyone thinking lunar. A team at Google has calculated that more computing power is used in a single Google search than was needed for the entire moon landing mission, from inception to completion. That’s a powerful reflection of how rapidly technology advances, but the equally big lesson is that we don’t always appreciate the power we have or use it to best effect.

Google researchers Udi Manber and Peter Norvig reached that conclusion after analysing the computing systems used for NASA’s 1969 mission, and compared them to Google’s army of servers across the world. Their conclusion is startling:

When you enter a single query in the Google search box, or just speak it to your phone, you set in motion as much computing as it took to send Neil Armstrong and eleven other astronauts to the moon

I’m going to remember this the next time I feel like complaining about how my phone is slow, or I don’t get quite the search results I want, or an app doesn’t have all the customisation options I want. Yes, technology is constantly evolving. Yes, you have to know what’s wrong before you can make it right. But the amount of computing power that we have at our fingertips for minimal cost is utterly astonishing, and we need to remember that and be excited by it, not just annoyed.

The power of the Apollo missions in a single Google search [Inside Search]


  • google powers – used everyday by a lot of ppl pays for it self
    NASA requires tax payers money, used for ‘greater good’ what ever this is , value return per dollar not that great – dont believe me just google it

    • /facepalm
      I really hope you’re not being serious. Check out http://www.wtfnasa.com/ for direct examples of “the greater good”. For a more abstract valuation of NASA, Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about NASA as a “force for inspiration” pretty much non-stop. And all for a small fraction of the US budget.

    • NASA’s budget might seem extraordinary in terms of individuals salaries but put that in context – How BIG is space…

      According to The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy Space is BIG…:)

      Now try making those dollars reach those depths….

    • You sir need to remember that the space programs have been the catalyst for technological innovation that has returned untold wealth for their parent countries. Furthermore, when bringing up monetary arguments you should remember: that the entire apollo program cost roughly $109-$170 Billion (US) in 2010 dollars over the 11 years it was operating: In 2010, the US military spent $663 Billion (US) in a single year.(Wikipedia as sources, so don’t use this in a journal paper ).

      The US military is taxpayer funded and used for the ‘greater good’, is it not?

  • Oh come on, ‘rethinking’ attitudes after comparing 1969 computing power vs 2012 computing power is ridiculous.

    That’s a 43 year gap. Computing power roughly doubles every 2 years ala Moore’s law. That’s 2^22 = 4.2 million times more computing power since 1969. It’d be terrible if a single Google search DIDN’T have more power behind it.

    • I think the idea is that 43 years ago, we sent people to the moon with computers so primitive, you couldn’t search google with them. Why can’t we send people to the moon today when our computing power intensified so dramatically?

  • Also, your car has far more power than a horse but people rarely realise that on the drive to work. Talk about a skewed perspective

    Next time somebody cuts you off, think to yourself ‘at least I have more airconditioning than a horse.’

    (relatedly: your phone has gps navigation which is far better and easier than captain cook had, the famous roman legions wouldn’t have stood a chance against pretty much any modern weaponry, and the guys who built the pyramids would have LOVED the materials we use in skyscrapers. I’m often excited about how we live in the future but you’re allowed to get anoyed at it when it doesn’t actually work)

  • I must say that this strikes me as a false analogy. I think you are in error in thinking that navigating to the moon is as computationally complex as a natural language search.

    • Have you ever tried to navigate to the moon – it’s not as easy as you might imagine…Being off by as little as a fraction of 1 degree can be the difference between getting to the moon and making it back to Earth – They had a certain amount of fuel and couldn’t just pull over and get a refill at the nearest BP Galaxy station…
      As a Software Engineer myself I understand how complex an NLS is both to develop and to actually perform when coded right – That doesn’t mean I don’t understand the difference in terms of humanity between the two…If humanity didn’t have NLS it wouldn’t be such a big deal – If humanity hadn’t gone to the moon then a great many achievements MAY not have been made – not just in the space fields but in every avenue of science by people who were inspired by the space program…

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!