The extraordinary story of a special number

The answer to life, the Universe and everything

According to Wikipedia –a source we all believe in blindly–, the number 42 is, in Douglas Adams’ novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything", calculated by an enormous supercomputer called Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years. Fine, that was slow. It clearly wasn’t processed on the cloud…perhaps on an Arduino. But still, try typing “the answer to life, the Universe and everything” in Google search. The answer will be the number 42. It’s not that Google engineers have gone crazy, it’s just that the number 42 is particularly significant to computer science nerds around the world.

42 is a bit of a magic number. For example, in ASCII language, it is the designation for an asterisk. So, when Deep Thought was asked what the true meaning of life was, it answered as you might think a computer would: “42”. In other words, “anything you want it to be”. Elon Musk, a tech nerd himself, had the number 42 painted on the SpaceX’s Starship prototype. And the list of people crazy about 42 goes on. The online world is plagued with 42-themed Easter eggs.

But what we liked most about the number 42, is that it has a special meaning for truth seekers, which is what we at ODS and Openbank consider ourselves. The message that Douglas Adams sends with a computer answering 42 to man’s oldest and most difficult question –what’s the meaning of life?–, is that asking the right question is always the most difficult part of solving a problem. If you are into machine-learning algorithms and you’re asked to answer if we should issue a credit card to a client, what would the question be? “Does the client have the intention to pay?” or perhaps “will the client lose his or her job?”, etc. There are many questions you could ask, and the quality of the outcome will depend on you asking the right one. The number 42 reminds us to never stop asking questions, to progress and to seek out new answers. That is also the spirit of ODS, developing innovative solutions to boost the next generation of banks and fintechs.