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Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers by Paul J. Nahin

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Random Number Generators

Any one who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin. For . . . there is no such thing as a random number—there are only methods to produce random numbers, and a strict arithmetic, procedure of course is not such a method.

—John von Neumann, in a 1951 paper in which the use of the plural numbers is crucial in understanding the distinction he is making.

The very idea of a deterministic machine like a computer creating random numbers seems to be an oxymoron. Random numbers are, well, random, while a computer is supposed to be an utterly predictable gadget. Indeed, no one has ever seen an advertisement saying something like

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