Choose a number – any number between zero and infinity. Which number did you choose? Congratulations, you are now a random number generator – or are you? According to some scientists, humans are very bad at choosing random numbers because of the way our brain works, always looking for patterns (even where there are none).
To generate a truly random number, humans have used various devices over the years, from coins (which could generate a random number between, say, 0 and 1), dice (which could generate a random sequence of numbers from 1 to 6) or roulette tables (which generate random numbers between 0 and 36). But these objects and devices are often inherently biased, so we needed a better solution: random number generators.
If you wonder why we need random numbers at all, know that they are used in way more areas than you might think.
When you play at the nicest live casino India has to offer, you are surrounded by random numbers generated by the dealer on the screen. The sequence of cards in a deck at the blackjack table, the slot of the roulette wheel where the ball stops are all random. When you take a step back and look at the video slot machines at the same casino, you’ll rely on the services of a computer behind the scenes generating completely fair – aka random – results for each spin. You can be sure that the random number generator behind these games is fair because of the audits and periodical randomness reviews it has to undergo.
But random number generators go way beyond online casinos – they have many real-life uses. Just think of random.org, the service used by countless blogs to choose the winners of raffles or giveaways – and the many uses they have that are far less trivial than this.
Simulations and statistics
In science and engineering, simulations run on computers are routinely used to study real-life phenomena. Except in real life, these phenomena can be influenced by randomly occurring events ranging from radio noise to the weather. So, scientists and engineers are relying on random number generators to simulate them.
Random numbers are also routinely used in statistics, no matter if it’s the determination of a random sample of the general population or the creation of double-blind trials where bias is unacceptable.
Finally, here’s one area where random numbers are routinely used: encryption.
Encryption is the basis of our privacy and security online, our safe money transfers, dating profiles, social media, and cloud storage services.
The encryption keys have to be very hard to guess – they have to have high entropy, as the specialists say – to be as hard to guess as possible. At the same time, they have to be secret as well, which makes encryption keys perhaps the most seriously guarded secrets of our world today.
While you rarely even give them a second thought, random numbers have a very important role in our everyday life.
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