How does a Random Number Generator work?

It’s surprisingly hard to generate a number which is truly random – however you attempt to do so, there’s a chance of subconscious factors or unseen variables tilting your decision making into something less random. There have been multiple polls that show, when you ask the general public for a number, they will default on the same sort of answers, with 17 being a common answer. You can get away with it in some games where “Random” events can be triggered by time or the computer running an imperfect RNG as it isn’t that important if the event is random or not.

But there are a number of applications that require randomness in order to function properly, things like an online dice roller or a roulette wheel at a casino site such as have random outcomes as their core component – in the case of the roulette wheel, if the result isn’t random then the entire game is compromised and open to exploitation.

However, it is possible with the right software to generate a very nearly true random number – and this is how.

The different kinds of RNG

There are two main methods to create a random number – the first is to measure a physical phenomenon and use that as a basis. The easiest example here is of a dice, rolling it to see what number comes up and using that to determine what the result is, or a roulette wheel. These are good for randomness but it’s unfortunately difficult or impossible to translate this into scale. It’s more common instead for a random number generator to use something like radioactive decay or thermal noise as these are elements which are random on a quantum level. The number generator will interpret this randomness and then use it as a base to derive a random number. There is an issue with how the data is collected though as there can systemic biases in the collection process which need to be accounted for. But in general, these sorts of RNGs are as random as can be.

The other method is purely computational but is more accurately called a Pseudo Random Number Generator – a Pseudo Random Number Generator is a programme that will start generating random numbers from a designated seed number. While these numbers are suitably random, the difficulty is that it needs a starting point and this starting point will mean that there is a way for someone to predict what the result will be if they can obtain the seed number. There are a number of methods around this such as using a sequence of PRNGs with a master generator selecting which number to use at a given time. This method is often used by online casinos, but the inherent danger of if someone were to learn the seed number for their games is something they’re acutely aware of.

Who would have thought it’d be that hard to simulate a computer rolling a dice? What do you think, is it important how random an RNG is? Let us know in the comments!

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