The Endless Possibilities Behind “What If” Questions 5


What if….we asked more “What if” questions?

Technicians, programmers and science lovers are most likely to know of him and are great fans of his work: Randall Munroe. Munroe, a web cartoonist and an extremely smart science know-it-all, runs a famous online comic called xkcd. But he might be even more known for his love for answering the most weirdest and absurdest questions. His blog “What if” is an entertaining collection of his answers to those out-of-the ordinary questions, posted by readers, that can mostly (but not always) be answered with math, science and comics. For instance, have you ever wondered how many stairs a stairway to space would have? Or what would happen if all the rivers in the US were instantly frozen in the middle of the summer? Probably you haven’t. But still, Munroe knows the answers. What-if questions will make you realise how much we don’t know and that even the seemingly most impossible questions can be answered with accessibly scattered information bits from various sources. “It’s like solving a sudoku puzzle”, Munroe says. It’s putting pieces together, one by one.

Solving Google’s Mystery

In his TED Talk “Comics that ask ‘what if’ ”, Munroe poses some of his favourite What-if questions that he has received throughout his online career as a comic-drawing problem solver, but picks out one particular incident to focus on in his TED talk: An enticing question sent to him by a curious reader about data giant Google. The question was:

If all digital data were stored on punch cards, how big would Google’s data warehouse be?

Munroe seeks to answer the question by pushing himself through the secretive maze that is Google and using information bits such as common-sense estimates about money and electricity usage as well as not so common-sense sources such as pizza delivery guys. In an intellectually stimulating way, Munroe explains how he came up with his final estimate of Google’s entire owned data. But it does not end here. His talk closes with a surprising twist to his Google story. Google responded to his data estimate by sending him punchcards encoded with a secret message.

The Lesson? Asking what-if questions will lead you to places that you probably haven’t imagined before and nurture your knowledge in ways that will blow your mind. We bet you are dying to know Google’s answer. Watch Munroe’s talk below to find out what Google had to say and….what if, you just let Munroe ping your brain?

photo 1 

Header image credits royalty free

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About Olivia List

Olivia is doing her Master's in Business studies and has specialized in marketing before. She is interested in health topics, innovations in the health industry, psychology as well as digital marketing and media and loves to eat, think, talk and write about food ;)


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