(JSTOR) Random numbers—a string of numbers each of which cannot be predicted from the preceding ones have been created millennia by humans. Early Greeks and Romans played games of chance by tossing the heel bone of a sheep or other animal and seeing which of its four straight sides landed uppermost. Now we a have more sophisticated random number generators–the latest of which required a lab full of laser equipment at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, CO. It relies on counterintuitive quantum behavior with an assist from relativity theory to make random numbers. This was a notable feat because the NIST team’s numbers were absolutely guaranteed to be random, a result never before achieved.
Random numbers are chaotic for a good cause. They are eminently useful, and not only in gambling. Since random digits appear with equal probabilities, like heads and tails in a coin toss, they guarantee fair outcomes in lotteries, such as those to buy high-value government bonds in the United Kingdom. Precisely because they are unpredictable, they provide enhanced security for the internet and for encrypted messages.