How and Why Computers Roll Loaded Dice

Stephen Ornes in Quanta:

Here’s a deceptively simple exercise: Come up with a random phone number. Seven digits in a sequence, chosen so that every digit is equally likely, and so that your choice of one digit doesn’t affect the next. Odds are, you can’t. (But don’t take my word for it: Studies dating back to the 1950s reveal how mathematically nonrandom we are, even if we don’t recognize it.)

Don’t take it to heart. Computers don’t generate randomness well, either. They’re not supposed to: Computer software and hardware run on Boolean logic, not probability. “The culture of computing is centered on determinism,” said Vikash Mansinghka, who runs the Probabilistic Computing Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “and that shows up at pretty much every level.”

But computer scientists want programs that can handle randomness because sometimes that’s what a problem requires.

More here.