Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Do Computers Really Randomise?

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The computer is basically used to make tasks easier to carry out.  Smart computing devices like personal computers, hand held devices,  PDAs, smart phones and watches are perceived to possess randomisation capabilities. The question is; are they really randomising? 

Unlike humans, computers don't have a mind of their own. They are not able to make decisions because every operation carried out by a computer is controlled by predefined instructions in form of software.  The software is of course written by a human being. Because computers lack ability to make decisions, it is not out of place to say that they cannot randomise. They only make use of complex mathematical formulae and algorithms to gives an impression that they're capable of carrying out random activities. Steve Ward, a  Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory says "One thing that traditional computer systems aren’t good at is coin flipping. They’re deterministic, which means that if you ask the same question you’ll get the same answer every time. In fact, such machines are specifically and carefully programmed to eliminate randomness in results. They do this by following rules and relying on algorithms when they compute."
Random number generation is useful for many different purposes. For example random numbers are used in cryptography. Because these numbers are generated in a very unpredictable way, we assume that the computer is randomising. This is not so, the computer was only programmed to behave randomly. Sometimes, to generate a random number that is "impossible" to predict, the computer measures some type of physical phenomenon that takes place outside of the computer. This depends on how sophisticated the computer device is. For example the computer could use the exact time to perform a task (e.g. creating a word document) as part of a process to make data unpredictable.

To prove that computers don't really randomise we can illustrate with media players. My experience with media players on phones, laptops and iPods is one good proof. When you shuffle music tracks to play randomly and you click the previous track button it will replay the song that you listened to before the current one. It wouldn't do that if it was actually shuffling. I also noticed most-played songs are given more priority on some devices while tracks having titles or artiste names looking like those of the ones you recently placed are prioritized on others. This shows that the so called random process is following some pattern or algorithm.
I hope with this post I have been able to prove that computers cannot do things randomly.
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