Don't leave randomness to chance - get certified

What do we mean by randomness? EU-funded researchers have come up with new insights into the nature of randomness that could ultimately have application in fields as diverse as lotteries and cryptography.

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


  Infocentre

Published: 18 May 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Human resources & mobilityCareers & mobility  |  Marie Curie Actions
Pure sciencesMathematics  |  Physics
Social sciences and humanities
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Austria  |  France
Add to PDF "basket"

Don't leave randomness to chance - get certified

© tostphoto - fotolia.com

Most people at some time or other have taken part in a lottery where the winning ticket is drawn ‘at random’ from all those entered in the draw. But what do we mean by ‘random’?

A sequence of numbers is random if there is no pattern behind it, no law to predict which number will come next. So how could we make such a sequence?

Researchers in the EU-funded RANPHYS project developed a mathematical model of unpredictability and found they could assess the degree to which a source of randomness was truly unpredictable.

“We were interested in the industrial realisation of random number generators,” says RANPHYS’ researcher Karl Svozil of the Vienna University of Technology, Austria. “We located instances of quantum randomness so that you could say - if you believe in quantum mechanics - that this process is guaranteed, certified by authority of quantum mechanics, to be totally lawless in a very strict sense.”

Svozil worked with colleagues in France and New Zealand to gain deep insights into the nature of randomness and unpredictability and help scientists navigate what he describes as the “weird interface between physics and mathematics”.

Quantum randomness

Many random number generators available today are only ‘pseudo-random’ as they employ algorithms to produce sequences of numbers that appear random but are actually pre-determined by the starting conditions and will eventually repeat. Computer programs to generate random numbers are of this nature and are not suitable for high-stakes applications such as encryption and lotteries.

Much better are generators that use a physical source of randomness such as electrical or atmospheric noise, but most physicists believe that the ultimate source of randomness lies in quantum mechanics, the behaviour of matter at atomic or sub-atomic scales.

On such scales events are inherently random and unpredictable. Radioactive decay is an example - no-one can predict when a nucleus will emit a particle - and has been used to generate sequences of truly random numbers. But can we do better?

Codebreaking and lotteries

But why does this matter? Random sequences of numbers are used as keys in cryptography, to protect all manner of information transmitted over the internet. If there was any doubt whether the sequence was truly random then an adversary may be able to find a way to break the code.

What the RANPHYS model does is point to a way of certifying a random sequence as truly random and unpredictable, based firmly on what is believed to be irreducible quantum uncertainty. Other possible applications are in national lotteries, where prizes of millions of euros are allocated according to ticket numbers drawn at random.

“They would be advised to use our device if they wanted the public to believe in them,” Svozil says. “This is the best way of generating randomness in a certified, scientific way.”

He speculates that certified randomness may find its way into other areas of life. For example, research funding bodies could allocate a certain proportion of their budget to applicants at random.

“In the long run the only way of getting some original ideas through may be by the old Greek idea of drawing lots,” he adds.

Thanks to funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme, Svozil’s reflections on randomness, as elaborated by the RANPHYS project, will be published in a free-to-download book.

Project details

  • Project acronym: RANPHYS
  • Participants: Austria (Coordinator), France
  • Project N°: 269151
  • Total costs: € 44 100
  • EU contribution: € 44 100
  • Duration: October 2011 to October 2015

See also

 

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also
Project details