True randomness can be observed in common actions and natural phenomena, such as the roll of a dice or the radioactive decay of atoms. During these events, the outcome or pattern cannot be predicted, although probability theory can help to give a guideline on what may happen. For many years, mathematicians and computer scientists have sought to replicate natural randomness in a digital system.
There are two types of random number generator (RNG) in wide use today. The first is pseudo-random, an ongoing string of numbers created by an algorithm that passes certain statistical tests for randomness but could in theory be predicted with a powerful enough computer program. For many purposes, this is good enough. True RNGs use the types of natural phenomena mentioned above to generate the basis or ‘seed’ for the program to go on producing the numbers. These are much more secure and cannot be predicted even theoretically.
But why do we need to use RNGs? There are actually a lot of practical applications for a system that continually produces a sequence of unpredictable numbers. From security to simulations, RNGs are everywhere.
Security and cryptography
The most obvious use of the RNG is in online data security. True RNGs are utilised to encrypt data when it is transferred from one party to another. Any time you make a transaction online, the encryption that protects your financial data relies on RNG. The same can be said for password generators, which have become more widely used in recent years. Instead of creating your own password, which is known to often be less than secure, the computer will suggest one for you. This has also been randomly generated.
Humans are not by nature very good at randomness. We are fallible, and we like to see patterns. This is not ideal when designing scientific studies, as it is likely that the human designers will include an element of bias into the system, even without realising it. In order to create a study that is objective, randomisation is key.
One example is in double-blind drug trials. These trials use a test drug and a placebo as a control group, in order to accurately see the effectiveness of the medication. It is vital that neither the test subjects nor the researchers know which patients belong in which group. Assigning the various subjects to each group is done using randomisation.
Without the RNG, researchers could unconsciously favour certain subjects over others, for example making sure that a patient who seems more unwell gets to use the real trial drug and not the placebo. This would skew the results and make the trial unreplicable.
Since the inception of blockchain tech in 2009, there has been interest in utilising the new system to make a decentralised RNG. Decentralisation is desirable because it is not under the control of a single entity, but rather spread publicly and therefore impossible to manipulate. Although some progress has been made by several different groups, so far there has yet to be a single blockchain RNG that satisfies all necessary criteria. In some cases the security is still lacking, while in others the rate at which the numbers are generated is not sufficient to be widely applicable.
RNG Simulation in online gambling
One of the biggest areas where RNG technology comes into play is in online gambling. At virtual casinos and slot sites, there are digital versions of all the games that you might find at a land-based casino site. This includes games like roulette and blackjack, as well as the ever-popular online slots. Real life casino gaming is probably the most obvious place where we witness true randomness, with every spin of the roulette wheel and every shuffle and deal of the cards.
So, it is obviously of extreme importance that online casino sites can simulate the conditions of a physical casino game as closely as possible. Players visit these sites in good faith, and it must be true and provable that the games are as fair and random as they would be if you were playing them at a gaming table. This is where the RNG comes in.
The same is true for players at slot sites like the ones tested and ranked here, where each time the reels spin it must be entirely unpredictable what symbols will land. This ensures that the casino isn’t rigging the game, but also that it is impossible for the player to cheat. Most of the best slot sites and casinos use pseudo-random RNG tech. Although this does not create true randomness in the most scientific definition of the term, for the purposes of a casino it is close enough to reality as to make no difference.