Once, in the taxi from London, Hardy noticed its number, 1729. He must have thought about it a little because he entered the room where Ramanujan lay in bed and, with scarcely a hello, blurted out his disappointment with it. It was, he declared, “rather a dull number,” adding that he hoped that wasn’t a bad omen.
“No, Hardy,” said Ramanujan. “It is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”
— Kanigel, Robert. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan
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Balaji Srinivasan: Sure. So I’m actually going to be launching something at that domain, probably by the time this podcast is published, hopefully. And so it’s a domain 1729.com. And what does it refer to? It’s not a year, it’s the first number that’s the sum of two cubes in two different ways. And what that refers to, it’s basically the Ramanujan number. So Srinivasa Ramanujan was India’s greatest mathematician, and kind of like India’s Einstein, but has kind of a romantic story in the sense that he was extremely poor and wrote these letters to mathematicians around the world. He had just self-taught math from a textbook. He wrote these letters to mathematicians around the world, and most of them ignored him, just thought he was a crank. And one guy brought him out to England, this guy G.H. Hardy, who thought this guy has to be a genius because no one would make up these equations.
And so then Ramanujan began a rampage through mathematics and has people still to this day going through a page of his notebooks for an entire mathematical journal issue, because he just wrote down all these results that were true, but he didn’t provide the proof. You just intuit the result. So where does 1729 come from, 1729?
Well, unfortunately, Ramanujan died very young, very, very young from — people think it’s because he was away from his food and the warm weather of India and so on. But basically on his deathbed, Hardy came in to try to cheer him up. He said, “Ramanujan, I came in on a taxi and the license plate, it’s very boring. It’s 1729.” And on his deathbed, Ramanujan still had the wit and faculty to say, “Oh, that’s not boring. It’s the sum of two cubes in two different ways,” because he’s on a first name basis with every number, you know? And that’s kind of the legend of Ramanujan.
Balaji Srinivasan: There’s pieces, actually the numbers in there and so on. But to me, for many years actually, before joining Andreessen Horowitz, what I was going to do is turn the MOOC course that I had done in 2013 into a global talent search. Because just like you have the Hubble Telescope looking for dark matter around the universe, I thought of the mobile telescope, the telescope provided to us by mobile, could help us find the dark talent in the Global South, the undiscovered talent. And basically that’s not just the Global South, that’s Eastern Europe, that’s Russia, that’s all the former Soviet countries, that’s basically the world of all these people who didn’t have a chance. And I think of that as something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. That’s what I was going to do prior to joining a16z, for a bunch of reasons.
I joined a16z instead in 2013, and I’m kind of coming back to the path not traveled, and doing this global talent search. And the idea is that basically we who have been fortunate enough to have some resources or winnings, we can offer a hand up to all these people, bring them into the global economy, level them up, give them what we know in terms of education, or teaching, or what have you. And all of the stuff can be delivered, I know it sounds like a cliche, but at scale over the internet, you produce it once and you can replicate across millions of people. So this is what I’m doing next. And hopefully by the time the podcast comes out, this’ll be live. Knock on wood. Okay.