A Brief History of Random Numbers

Carl Tashian in Free Code Camp:

ScreenHunter_2630 Mar. 18 16.28“As an instrument for selecting at random, I have found nothing superior to dice,” wrote statistician Francis Galton in an 1890 issue of Nature. “When they are shaken and tossed in a basket, they hurtle so variously against one another and against the ribs of the basket-work that they tumble wildly about, and their positions at the outset afford no perceptible clue to what they will be even after a single good shake and toss.”

How can we generate a uniform sequence of random numbers? The randomness so beautifully and abundantly generated by nature has not always been easy to extract and quantify. The oldest known dice (4-sided) were discovered in a 24th century B.C. tomb in the Middle East. More recently, around 1100 B.C. in China, turtle shells were heated with a poker until they cracked at random, and a fortune teller would interpret the cracks. Centuries after that, I Ching hexagrams for fortunetelling were generated with 49 yarrow stalks laid out on a table and divided several times, with results similar to performing coin tosses.

But by the mid-1940s, the modern world demanded a lot more random numbers than dice or yarrow stalks could offer. RAND Corporation created a machine that would generate numbers using a random pulse generator. They ran it for a while and gathered the results into a book titled A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates. What now might seem like an absurd art project was, back then, a breakthrough. For the first time, a nice long sequence of high-quality random numbers was made available to the public. The book was reprinted by RAND in 2001 and is available on Amazon.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email