Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/09/29/in-his-spare-time-an-engineer-found-flaws-in-the-classic-book-a-million-random-digits.html

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Is there any system that could possibly be “gamed” by this knowledge? Hashes? Possible encryption backdoor?

It’s not that the digits in the book aren’t random, he says. They just don’t seem to be exactly the right digits in exactly the right order

So, they’re randomly random when he expects them to be precisely random?

Sure, if it’s known that a system utilizes the million random digits, it wouldn’t be that hard computationally if they’re used in a known sequence. This isn’t much more than an entropy generator when a more reliable and random source of entropy isn’t available.

Bro #1: “Hey Bro, I looked at this big collection of random numbers and concluded they aren’t arranged as I expected them to be.”

Bro #2: “Bro, maybe it’s because they’re random.”

Bro #1: “Duuuuuuuuuuude!”

i thought one of the points of a “million random digits” was that using a normal algorithm to generate *pseudo* random numbers isn’t good enough randomness… so how could you compare the million digits to a local matlab generation that’s based on pseudo random algorithms?

now… maybe if the commenter had used lava lamps?

i’d honestly be curious how they transcribed the digits. 1955 wasn’t well known for computerized typesetting. what a horrific task that must have been. how did they even verify and check for errors from their source?

I’m getting an “engineer thinking they’re good at everything” vibe from this. Has a mathematician who studies randomness weighed in? Real randomness is actually clumpy and weird, so if the engineer’s criteria was “even statistical distribution” as implied by the article summary, then this techbro needs to get back in his lane.

@frauenfelder - it is a foreword not a forward.

according to the book’s forward

Please fix. Thanks.

(I do have an official Pedant Pendant and it bugs me that the more other people see this incorrect usage the more we will then see it used and eventually nobody will know what a foreword actually is.)

*software engineer

I was told there would be no math…

Came looking for this, leaving satisfied.

it will be correct usage!

NEVER!!

while they are random, the order in which the digits are printed diverge from statistical probability

yeah! What’s the probability that that *particular* million digit integer would occur? It’s gotta be like a million to one.

(and yes, it would non-cutely closer to 10¹⁰⁰⁰⁰⁰⁰ to 1. which is a bit more unlikely)

Even worse than the disappointment this guy experienced is the fact that the issues he points out totally cause the plot to drag in the second act.

“It’s not that the digits in the book aren’t random, he says. They just don’t seem to be exactly the right digits in exactly the right order.”

It now appears that Little Orphan Annie’s secret message was, in fact, “BE SUPE TQ DRIMK MORV OVALTUNE.”

I’ve been saying that for years! Thank you!

The last quote from a commenter suggests that the “flaws” in the random digits are well within the expected deviation. I agree, sounds like another Very Smart Engineer who thinks they know better than the actual experts in the field.