Why Would You Want a Book of a Million Random Numbers?

Are you looking for a good book for this weekend? Let us tell you about one that will really hold your attention.

It’s a little hard to describe the overall plot, but right from the start it took some unexpected twists. At the risk of giving away too much of the story, we were mesmerized by this bit:

14454 04504 20094 98977 74843 93413 22109 78508 30934 47744 07481 83828 73788 06533 28597 20405 94205 20380 22888 48893 27499 98748 60530 45128 74022 84617 82037 10268 78212 16993 35902 91386 44372 15486 65741 14014 87481 37220 41849 84547 46850 52326 46352 33049 69248 93460 11087 96294 14013 31792 52701 08337 56303 87315 57275 36898 81304 48585 34677 58300 45305 07521 59747 67277 16520 69676 68652 27376 74910 64345 19325 81549 61318 31855 14413 76503 34513 70951 39663 77544 11654 99893 02181 68161 92852 55866 88448

Of course, there was that side-splitting moment when we read, “24149 87544 76517 63579 61590.”

No other author has such a writing style. Shakespeare, himself, would be hard pressed to surpass prose such as, “99002 407335 85281.”

One thing is for sure: there was nothing at all predictable about any of it. The book kept us guessing right up to the final digit.

By now, we know you’re ready to cancel all your weekend plans so you can curl up with this great read. All you need is the book’s name: A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates. A hardcover copy will set you back $755.63, but you can get the paperback edition for $67.64. We also see that you can get a used paperback edition for $83.50 plus shipping and handling, the logic of which strikes as a bit random. Randomness, however, is what the book is all about.

A Million Random Digits is — SPOILER ALERT — a book containing 1 million random digits. The paperback version is 600 pages and weighs 3.77 pounds (1.71 kg). Aside from the introductory 23 pages that explain how the book was derived, the rest of it is nothing but random numbers. It was first published in 1955 and is a product of the RAND Corporation.

Why is there a need for such a book? There are plenty of professions that make use of random numbers. Pollsters, for example, cannot call every person who has a telephone. Auditors cannot review every financial transaction of a business. They need to choose a random sample. A Million Random Digits makes that process easy.

Others who use A Million Random Digits include researchers, cryptologists, and those who are responsible for selecting jury pools. The book takes the guesswork out of creating randomness.

Can’t people come up with their own random numbers if they need them? As it turns out, they really can’t. Studies have shown that if you ask people to list a string of numbers at random, there is a certain amount of un-randomness to the results. We tend to avoid 5 and overuse 1. In other words, if pollsters chose their own random numbers, they would unintentionally skip the fifth person on the list while calling the first person too many times.

Another entity that depends upon random, totally-meaningless numbers that have no basis in reality is the Congressional Budget Office gaming and gambling industry. Selection of numbers for scratch-off cards and the programming of electronic slot machines must be completely unpredictable.

Although computers can be programmed to create “random” numbers, they can only do what the programming tells them to do. If you can reverse engineer the program that creates the numbers, you can predict what the numerical sequence will be. That’s what happened in 2009 when a team of Russian programmers got their hands on a slot machine and learned how to beat the system.

A Million Random Digits was in its heyday in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, its use has declined as computers have become more sophisticated, thus coming closer to a simulating true degree of randomness.

We are still awaiting word of who will be cast to star in the movie adaptation. In 2015, there were purportedly 1,584 people in the United States named “Seven.” Presumably one of them would be chosen, but perhaps that would be a bit too predictable.

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