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February 9, 2007

Free Random Numbers

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No, this is not a joke: absolutely free, guaranteed-to-be-random numbers are yours for the taking at randomnumbers.info.

Created by Id Quantique, a Geneva-based group of physicists, the site went live on March 18, 2004.

They'll give you all the randomness you can handle at no charge.

Of course, I'll do the same thing.

But I digress.

If you want to buy their device to install into your computer, it'll cost you $1,205.

That will result in 4 million random bits a second, which should be enough to get you started.

Physicist Gregoire Ribordy, one of the principals of Id Quantique, said, "In a sense, this is the first quantum computer."

Their device fires photons, one at a time, at a half-mirrored surface.

The mirror has a 50% chance of letting the photon through or bouncing it back, but there is no way of knowing which path any one photon will take.

The computer turns each event into a one or a zero.

Of what use are random numbers?

Well, online privacy and financial security depend on long strings of random digits used to encrypt messages during e-commerce transactions and other sensitive communications.

Random numbers also underlie gambling websites and lotteries.

They're crucial to scientists who want to simulate complex systems such as weather patterns or the stock market.

But although computers depend on them, they cannot generate them, because everything they do is driven by rules — and rules, by definition, cannot produce randomness.

Besides randomnumbers.com, other sites offer random numbers based on other means of generating them.

For example, lavarnd.org creates its random numbers by turning the electronic noise from a blacked-out webcam with its lens cap on into digits.

Mads Haahr, a computer scientist at Trinity College in Dublin, generates numbers from the white noise of a cheap portable radio tuned to an empty wavelength.

He gives away up to 4,000 random numbers a second at his website.

February 9, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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