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Random Number Generator That Sees Into the Future 1216

Posted by Zonk
from the could-be-hooey dept.
hackajar writes "Red Nova news has an interesting article about a random number generating black box that may be able to see into the future. From the article: "according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events"."
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Random Number Generator That Sees Into the Future

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  • by fembots (753724) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:44AM (#11657093) Homepage
    You mean I don't need to subscribe to Slashdot to see the Mysterious Future [slashdot.org]?

    Then maybe it can help me to win a few more Rock Paper Scissors [iclod.com] games too.
    • Re:Mysterious Future (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mog007 (677810) <Mog007@@@gmail...com> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:03AM (#11657214)
      Don't be rediculous, this has far greater possibilities... can anybody say "lottery"?
      • by skids (119237) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:49AM (#11657693) Homepage
        Yeah like slashdotting the "eggs".

        OK, 65 eggs, so we'll use the extra one as a parity bit. Everyone concentrate on the following binary number really really hard:

        1010011 1101100 1100001 1110011 1101000 1000100 1101111 1110100 1
    • by letxa2000 (215841) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:14AM (#11657297)
      Combine this with the unpredictable microprocessors [slashdot.org] and maybe those microprocessors will be predictable again!

      • by Stephen Samuel (106962) <samuel@bcgre e n . c om> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:53AM (#11657703) Homepage Journal
        I saw that comment coming.

        Omigod..... I'm PSYCHIC!!!!

        I think I'll just go to sleep now ... before I get more tired.

      • by mr_luc (413048) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:46PM (#11660792)
        Cellular Automata can be used to generate almost perfectly random numbers (much more random than even some of the most tried-and-true methods), but that technique was not being used in the 70's, when this supposedly started.

        My guess is that since they describe RNG's as "black boxes", they are using hardware RNG's, which use the fluctuations derived from an apparently random 'natural' process, like electric (resistor noise, by far the most common) and radioactive decay.

        But I find it interesting and ironic that each of the events they have talked about predicting in many cases have associated electrical phenomenon!

        They even mentioned it in the article. A billion people watching Princess Di's funeral, or 9/11 -- ok, so a billion tv sets around the world turn on, and if your RNG is plugged into the wall . . . is it going to affect it? I dunno, but if it's a resistor-based RNG . . . the OJ Simpson trial, ditto. People are gonna start tuning in before the verdict; this produces, at the very least, an ELECTRICAL EVENT that is likely detectable anywhere on the power grid.

        With showing the person slides of pictures, and the random number fluctuations happening prior to the person seeing the picture . . . um . . . is there any electrical machinery plugged into the wall that takes an action to ready/display the next slide? Wouldn't that be funny, now . . .

        And, of course, a tsunami produces measurable electrical phenomena as well. I don't know if it produces electrical phenomena in advance, of course, and it would seem that if that was the case we would be able to use it to predict seismic events

        I don't know anything about whether fluctuations in resistor/semiconductor-based RNG's can happen as a result of electrical phenomenon, but I think that the fact that the article makes no mention of attempts to screen for electrical interference, to detect correlating electrical/field events, or to isolate the RNG's in some way is a good indicator that these guys aren't trying very hard to play devil's advocate.
  • This is old news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:44AM (#11657094)
    Or do you people not listen to Art Bell? You should. You'll learn a lot.
  • by rednip (186217) <rednip&gmail,com> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:44AM (#11657098) Journal
    01010101011010111111000000000111110000000000000000 0000000000000000000
  • by DJ Haruko (798333) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:46AM (#11657103) Homepage
    If it can sense future events, that would make it less random, right? To me, that almost sounds like pre-determined events (how far into the future this pre-determination is good for, you decide), so it really isn't "random".
    • by PornMaster (749461) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:03AM (#11657209) Homepage
      Well, if it predicted events, it would tend towards being proof that nothing is really random, that everything in the universe is interconnected in some ways, and that this box is just "tuned" in such a way to pick these things up.

      Personally, I think it's a bunch of hooey.

      Something like activity right before a tsunami could possibly be explained by something we don't understand, but which is a viable scientifically-provable process like some kind of microtremors in the planet's crust or something of that sort.

      "Knowing" that 19 guys are going to hijack planes, however, isn't really something that should make "random" number generators generate sequences any differently.
      • by cowbutt (21077)
        For reasons connected with my personal beliefs, I would really like this to be a genuine phenomenon.

        But, like you, I think it's hooey too.

        If they want to convince me, then they need to start making concrete predictions (e.g. "there will be an earthquake at X on hh:mm dd:mn:yy"). They also need to start coming up with falsifiable hypotheses to explain the devices' behaviour and start testing those hypotheses.

    • by kenthorvath (225950) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:03AM (#11657211)
      It's funny that the correlation between the machine reading a certain state at time t and some major world event at t* where t* is greater than t is perceived as the event at t* causing the machine state at t, rather than the other way around. Correlation does not indicate causation, and in this case, it would appear more likely that the machine could somehow cause major events, though how that could occur, I have no idea, but it still seems infinitely more plausible than a case of genuine backwards causation, which is what everyone else seems to think is the case.
      • by trs9000 (73898)
        The only problem with your particular idea is that in the article, one of the examples cited is September 11th, 2001. The numbers began deviating and showed an anomaly four hours prior to the actual attacks, according to the article. Considering that the events that transpired later required lots of planning (months worth: tickets, training, etc), it is doubtful that a few black boxes around the world spitting out 1s and 0s could cause them. Especially considering that data probably went no further than
      • by jmv (93421) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @03:07AM (#11657751) Homepage
        Actually, you forgot the possibility that an event at time t-T caused both the event at time t and the prediction at time t*. Not that I really believe in that anyway...
      • by koll64 (546377)
        I think you are missing one very important point: if the machine reacts to the human mind then this means that not the machine but the human mind is in correllation with future events. And this is much more probable, though the methods are unknown.
  • I predict! (Score:3, Funny)

    by metlin (258108) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:46AM (#11657106) Journal
    I predict that this post will hit +5 funny!!

    No? :-(
  • by jcr (53032) <jcrNO@SPAMmac.com> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:47AM (#11657112) Journal
    /. needs a "trivially debunked hogwash" category. This belongs with the "battery stickers" story from a few weeks ago.

    -jcr
  • 42 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:49AM (#11657122)
    It just spit out the number 42. I guess there really is something to this little black box.
  • hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by fishyfool (854019) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:50AM (#11657132) Homepage Journal
    is this the machine Bush was using to predict terror alerts? not very accurate.
  • by patniemeyer (444913) * <pat@pat.net> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:51AM (#11657133) Homepage
    If they can demonstrate a link between people thinking and a random number generator in a controlled environment, then they can go claim the Randi prize (randi.org)... It's a million dollars, should be worth their time.

    I doubt they'll be collecting it.

    Pat Niemeyer
  • 4-1-2005 (Score:3, Funny)

    by MattHaffner (101554) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:01AM (#11657196)
    Wow. I just dozed off there for a moment and the rest of February and March just zipped on by. I must be getting old or something...
  • by ktakki (64573) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:02AM (#11657205) Homepage Journal
    I predict that this story will appear again on the front page of Slashdot within the next 48 hours.

    Regards,
    Karnak the Magnificent
  • by BReflection (736785) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:09AM (#11657257) Homepage
    Geeks will appreciate that you can download the raw data [princeton.edu] from the Global Consciousness Project and analyze it yourself. They even provide you a head start in your programming with their C++ package. In addition, there is a realtime driven display [princeton.edu] coded in Java, and "data driven music [princeton.edu]."

    The entire premise behind the Global Consciousness Project is that the Noosphere [wikipedia.org] exists, and that, when a large amount of people are focused on the same thing it effects things in ways that are difficult to measure. There are dozens of these eggs (64) all around the world returning truly random data to the princeton server, which is inside a special casing to protect it from any extraneous waves/radiation/youname it. Their data purport, and indeed seem, to show that during times when many people are focused on the same thing, this random data is suddenly "less random". This typically means that when people start hearing about a globally impacting event on the news, the data becomes less random.

    Using current methods it is impossible to prove that this is what they are measuring. But the data goes to show that they are measuring something. If you don't believe me or the news article, download the data and analyze it yourself, and if you're feeling the tingling of those psychic wavelengths, you can even register a prediction [princeton.edu] of your own ;)
  • heh (Score:5, Funny)

    by oPless (63249) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:13AM (#11657287) Journal
    I feel a disturbance in the force. It's as if a million random number generators cried out all at once ... and became silent.
  • White noise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ramanujan (98117) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:16AM (#11657304)
    I would think that one could divine just about anything from a field of random data; events past, present and future will fit just fine. Seems a like the perfect machine to give you a glimpse of exactly what you want to see.
  • by Starji (578920) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:24AM (#11657336)
    Consider for a moment that there exists a god. He (she or it, whatever) is basically our caretaker, maybe even our creator. Here's the deal though, nobody really knows anything about him, and I'd wager to say anyone who thinks they know anything is pretty fscking arrogant. What if (yes, this is just a theory), god doesn't really have great influential power in the universe (i.e. can't make the moon fall out of the sky in one night, or hurl the earth at the sun, etc), but can only subtly manipulate it through chaotic interactions. If this were true, wouldn't that mean patterns in chaos could very well be the face of god? It might even make fortune telling by random chance (tarot, rune casting, coin flipping, etc) legitimate. Assuming it were true and provable to be true, really it's just an interesting idea. Something like this story though, assuming it's true, makes it a bit more plausible.

    One thing that would be interesting to see is if location affects these Eggs. The article mentioned the Eggs notice global events. I wonder if you put an Egg in a small town whether or not it would detect something like a murder or a natural disaster local to the town. Might be something for these guys to try.
  • by Daikiki (227620) <[daikiki] [at] [wanadoo.nl]> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:26AM (#11657342) Homepage Journal
    It turns out you can watch these eggs live over at the It's fascinating stuff, although it feels a bit overly dramatic. It keeps making heartbeat sounds, and whenever a statistical deviation exceeds a certain boundary it goes 'ping'. [princeton.edu]

    So not only is it a website that predicts the future, it's a website that goes 'ping' that predicts the future. what more could a geek want?
    • So not only is it a website that predicts the future, it's a website that goes 'ping' that predicts the future. what more could a geek want?

      a shrubbery?
  • Margins of Reality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mercuryresearch (680293) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:41AM (#11657421) Journal
    I stumbled across this project years ago as I was researching "real" random number generation for encryption work. I found a very peculiar disclaimer from some manufacturers that claimed that the output would not be random is used in Psi research.

    From that I found multiple pointers to a book, Margins of Reality, by Jahn and Dunne. It details research done at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab. They basically run millions of RNG trials with people trying to influence the result, and they get pretty much statistically provable effects, but at a very low level (something like a 5 parts per 10,000 deviation from the norm.) What's freaky is it's so consistent they've gotten to the point that they can tell you which test subject is influencing things by the results. Very freaky stuff.

    Anyway, even if you're a die-hard prove-it-to-me science buff, the research results described in the book will really make you ponder how well we understand things, particularly RNGs and rigorous test procedures, if nothing else.
    • by danila (69889) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @07:59AM (#11658596) Homepage
      5 parts in 10000 is nothing. The probability theory guarantees that there are many experiements where such results are randomly produced. It's the same as with stock market. Many people use various insane trading schemes. Some of these randomly get rich. Those that consistently get rich claim that their schemes work, which is, of course, bogus.

      Technical analysis is the same. 250 people go to a seminar, half of them decide to get an account, buy books and software and start trading on FOREX or commodity markets. After a year 64 of them are still in the black. After two years 30 of them have profits for two years. After six years there probably will still be 2 guys, with BMWs, Rolexes and stuff. Wait one more year - one of them will lose anything, but the lucky one will decide to give seminars on technical analysis or write 100$ books on trading.

      Those guys in Princeton are idiots. They are wasting their time and university's money. Their claims are ridiculous and they deserve to be fired and sent to work in the trash sorting plant. That way we can put their skills in finding valuable stuff in random shit to good use.
      • by Eminence (225397) <akbrandt@nOSPam.gmail.com> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @12:34PM (#11660201) Homepage

        5 parts in 10000 is nothing. The probability theory guarantees that there are many experiements where such results are randomly produced.

        It is not the scale of the deviation but its repeatability that counts here.

        In other words if conscious concentration affects a random number generator then by how much the results differ could be viewed as the force of the effect. However, if the deviations repeatedly occur while a test subject concentrates on the generator but don't occur when no one does then that is a valid observation despite the effect observed being weak.

  • WEAK CORRELATION (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blair1q (305137) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:52AM (#11657465) Journal
    Classic case of weak correlation.

    Worse, the correlation suggests the causation post-facto. Nobody even guesses there will be a correlation until there's an effect. And if there's no effect, nobody discounts the box's output.

    Sad. Innumerate. Stupid.
  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@ l y n x.bc.ca> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:56AM (#11657496) Journal
    Because this story is about on par with what I'd expect to see on the cover of that rag when I'm waiting in line at the supermarket.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:03AM (#11657518) Journal
    If I were this guy, I would claim that women's breasts get firmer right before big events, and ask for a million-dollar grant to study hundreds of women. If you are going to be a quack, then go allll the way.
  • by clymere (605769) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:27AM (#11657617) Homepage
    what does this prove, other than that they just didn't build a very good random number generator?
  • by stor (146442) * on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:35AM (#11657650)
    Working for an infinite period, they'd eventually produce the works of Shakespeare, yeah?

    You'd probably get the entire contents of Usenet too for free.

    Cheers
    Stor
  • by gilroy (155262) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @04:11AM (#11658021) Homepage Journal
    In taking an (excellent) economics course in college, I was assigned the de rigeur "follow a handful of stocks and explain their motion" project. We did it for, I believe, 12 weeks. I faithfully followed some financial stocks day to day and produced weeekly summaries, diligently comparing movement in the stocks to events in the financial and wider worlds.

    At the end of the paper I wrote, I had a disturbing flash of honesty and commented that, while I had successfully drawn connections between every movment and some event, I had no faith in my explanations. The world is too big and the connections between any event and my stocks was so tenuous, that I suspected random chance. Moreover, because there were so many events in the world on any given day -- some positive and some negative -- that one could always find something that moved the data "the right way".

    This project sounds awfully similar to me.

    BTW, the prof noted my reservations and commented (paraphrased) "That's what you were intended to learn from this exercise all along." :)
  • by PsiPsiStar (95676) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @06:38AM (#11658394)
    This sounds like a Jewish telegram

    They read "start worrying, details to follow."
  • by ponos (122721) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @06:48AM (#11658412)

    For those of you that have not spent some time reading Knuth's Vol.2, there is an extensive analysis of what "randomness" is and how to get it. Clearly, a deterministic machine (=chip) cannot produce really random sequences. I did not bother to check the actual working details of those machines, but I would say that the only truly random phenomena are quantum phenomena and only these would be acceptable in a serious scientific study. Sure, modern chips get away by generating random-like sequences that are good enough to simulate true randomness for most purposes. This applies to HW random generators in most PCs. However, they are not, in principle, acceptable as real random number generators (even if they are equally well suited for applications).

    From a theoretical standpoint a truly random quantum system is immune to interference, while HW random number generators use an external (to the system) source of randomness, accepted to represent noise. This is the actual approach used in the kernel's /dev/random that draws data from various external events. It has been shown, under some circumstances to be less than reliable, because the event is external wrt to the kernel but still inside our frame of reference (e.g. we control the keyboard and the ethernet port and, potentially, the power fluctuations etc etc).

    Another significant point to consider is this: a truly random sequence is by definition infinite and it contains all possible subsequences of finite length. In an infinite series of coin tosses we MUST get all finitely long sequences of heads-only or tails-only. This means that given a long enough random subsequence (like the one that is produced by this machine), we will always be able to choose parts of it that are highly unlikely and statistically significantly different. Given that (a) every day something "important" happens somewhere and (b) we can always choose non-random "looking" parts of the sequence the credibility of this experiment is quite doubtful.

    A proper experimental design would not associate (chosen!) events with (chosen!) subsequences, but would instead prove that the source itself is systematically non-random due to an unknown cause of interference. When all reasonable measures have been taken to reduce traditional sources of interference, we would be open to creative speculation about its source.

    Another way to approach this is to make "a priori" (very important!) choices of "trigger" events and then assign very specific, "a priori" defined, time limits to the analysis. E.g. violent death of more than 1000 people in less than 1 hour is accepted as a trigger and we only correlate this to a contiguous 2h of data surrounding and including the event. The prior choice of experimental trigger conditions and rules makes a world of difference to the reliability of the test.

    P.

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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