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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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  • This is old news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:44AM (#11657094)
    Or do you people not listen to Art Bell? You should. You'll learn a lot.
  • reminds me ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by badmicrophone (858946) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:53AM (#11657154)
    of the total perspective vortex [fscked.org]
  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @01:58AM (#11657180)
    If there's one thing that's convinced me that predicting the future with certainty is REALLY hard and absurdley lucrative it's my experience with options trading. Which is kind of like regular stock trading except the risk/rewards are multiplied many times, sometimes up to an order of magnitude or more. Not something you want to do unless you have money to gamble and can sit there full time with your finger on the mouse ready to hit the sell button at a moments notice.

    That's the thing. Anybody who can predict the future with certainty can just go be an options trader and become a multi-millionaire in a matter of weeks.
  • Re:Mysterious Future (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mog007 (677810) <[Mog007] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:03AM (#11657214)
    Don't be rediculous, this has far greater possibilities... can anybody say "lottery"?
  • Deja-vue (Score:2, Interesting)

    by raceface (715858) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:08AM (#11657253)
    Could what they are trying to claim, be the root cause of deja-vue? That feeling you get that you've seen or done something already when you know that you haven't. Most people will admit to have had a deja-vue felling before, but would many sane people admit to being able to see the future, or communicate through thought? Mamby there is more to our minds than we care to admit.
  • by GoofyBoy (44399) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:14AM (#11657295) Journal
    >Add it all up and you'll find that just by chance, this machine is EXPECTED to have major spikes before world events

    Actually, the people involved in the project are already aware of this;
    From their FAQ:
    How do you make the leap that the deviations from randomness are related to world events or consciousness? After all, when you find a deviation you can check the news and ALWAYS find some world event that is taking place, because world events happen every day. There are never days without world events anymore, so it seems that there is a possibility that this is just a coincidence.

    The leap we make is only to ask the question. The answer seems to be yes, there are correlations. With regard to your concern that we can always find a special event to fit the data, we fully agree. However, we do our experimental work the other way around from what you have inferred. First we make a prediction that some identified event will have an effect, then we assess the data to see the actual outcome. Though some people suggest that we should do so, we never "find a deviation [and then] check the news", because you are right -- it will always be possible to find some event that we might imagine was the cause. The GCP methodology is prediction-based. Before the data are examined, a prediction is registered, with all necessary analysis specifications, and only then do we perform the analysis that allows us to quantify the correlation and assign it a probability against chance.
  • White noise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ramanujan (98117) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:16AM (#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 GoofyBoy (44399) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:28AM (#11657354) Journal
    > a random number generator in a controlled environment

    Seriously, they can't. Randi needs a totally controlled environment. The project uses a random generator and world events, both of which I don't think you can get into a controlled envrionment that would satisfy all.
  • by suso (153703) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:29AM (#11657359) Homepage Journal
    Who knows, maybe this will be some sort of evidence of us existing in a simulated world. Perhaps one where the people running it wish to know how people perceive what everyone thinks up to a major disaster. The simulation might need to increase its recording rate of people's minds leading up the the event. Or whatever. Just a thought.
  • by DualDescription (795765) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:30AM (#11657367)
    Researchers from Princeton - where Einstein spent much of his career

    Wtf? Brownian motion, Bose-Einstein statistics, explanation of photoeffect, special and general relativity theories were developed and finished long before 1932 - the year Einstein accepted the offer from Princeton.

    Anyone care to elabote what great discoveries he did while in Princeton, and how is his name even remotely related to this idiotic story? Who gives money to these lunatics? Next thing you know they will be studying astrology, alchemy and witchcraft in Princeton. Really sad, if this not a hoax.

  • Margins of Reality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mercuryresearch (680293) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:41AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:42AM (#11657428)
    The project started with a scientist asking people to come to his lab and concentrate. That one person allegedly influenced the outcome of the random number generator. This would tend to suggest that your influence on the machine is directly related to your distance from it.

    You say:

    during times when many people are focused on the same thing, this random data is suddenly "less random".

    Certainly, people in the U.S. join together and focus on the same thing every night during the news. They are less focused during regular working hours when everyone is concentrating on their own thing. So, is there a correlation between time-of-day and randomness for the machines closest to the U.S.?

    Is there a correlation between machines? If the scientists put two machines in the same room, do they produce similar results?

  • by IntellectualCritic (858955) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @03:07AM (#11657539)
    It's late and I'm a little rusty, but the results on their page [princeton.edu] are interesting, if not necessarily statistically significant. Out of 192 "let's assume" randomly selected timeframes, they found 16 events that were significant at the .05 level. That is, an event in the REG is signficant if it has a less than 5% probability of occuring by chance. Now, with 192 timeframes, you'd expect a few to look unlikely. In fact, we'd expect on average 192*0.05 = 9.6 events that look significant. So we're only 5.4 events above our average expectations. We can also calculate how much this average varies from case to case (say twenty people did this, and then compared and contrasted), and from that find if this is outcome was likely or not. The standard deviation for this case is:

    sqrt(192*0.05*0.95) = 3.02

    So we're 5.4 events away from expectations with a standard deviation of 3.02 events. This translates (through the student t-distribution) to a probability of about 0.08. That's intriguing, although not a mind blowingly low probability.

    Aside from the statistics, they've got a problem with the scientific method. They don't have any control days, so if their machines just produced unlikely streams of numbers more often than they should, the researchers could accidentally assume they are predicting the future. A better test would be to run the REGs for a year, collect the stream of data, and keep it secret. Then, at the end of the year, the scientists could pick out an equal number of "important" and "unimportant" days. If there's a statistically significant difference in the frequency of unlikely REG data on important and unimportant days, then you've got something. If not, they might just have a problem with their REGs.

    (I'd link to a better explanation of how I calculated standard deviation here, but the page I fould was an ugly pdf. You may have better luck simply Googling for it. [google.com])

  • by TWX (665546) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @03:44AM (#11657677)
    It may not be a "special" stream, but a specific way of implementing a generator that looks to be totally random. I'd like to see several years' worth of data, so that I can compare it with historical events beyond the scope that they've so far mentioned.

    The point of science is to attempt to understand the universe that we inhabit. If there's some correlation between otherwise random events and specific events that can be reliably demonstrated then we'll have some piece of the universe newly discovered, and we can begin to explore it and its full implications. That doesn't mean that it's likely, or that even if it's true that everyone would immediately accept it, but it's still progress as long as the proper methods are used.
  • Eh...not a very good debunking, IMHO.

    The response to images makes sense - people would learn a response. If they really want to show the something significant, they'd have to show that people can either anticipate a correct strong response all of the time (by also showing images that would invoke no response), or show that they would invoke a strong response the first time after a series of no-responses.

    The other part doesn't jive, though. The theory that this group of devices predicts disasters does not preclude the idea that it also produces false positives - or even that it also picks up something else of significance that has not been identified.

    Still, I question how they go about producing these random numbers. That could be the culprit.

    Oh, and as far as the straight line thing, and the curve - they're obviously talking about aggregated data. Unlike the "law of averages" as applied to a single number, the probability of getting a large number of the same values over and over can be calculated. It is very important to remember that what has happened in the past should have some weight in predicting what will happen in the future.

    What if all scientists took your approach to science?

    "Oh look, the apple fell from the tree, and I think it fell at the same accelaration as the last object I saw fall. I wonder if all objects fall with the same acceleration? Too bad I can't learn anything from that, since what happens in the past has no bearing at all on the future. I'm gonna go get some pie."

    It is quite easy for someone versed in probability to calculate (and I'm hoping they have) the likelihood of occurance of the anomalies they have witnessed. And if they've gotten a significant result (as in - this possibility that has occured 4 times this month should only happen on average once every hundred years...), then it might be worth looking into. Of course, maybe they're just fooling themselves, or being fooled by someone else. That's an awful lot of highly educated people to not realize that an anomoly is actually normal.
  • by trs9000 (73898) <trs9000&gmail,com> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @03:51AM (#11657699)
    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 the university lab (at least before the events).

    While I am as skeptical as you seem to be, I think the idea of the black boxes causing the events requires putting a good bit of stock in chaos theory (specifically the "butterfly effect") and is just as "out there" as the idea of the black boxes foretelling of them. And it still would not answer the reason for the deviations in the first place.

    For either hypothesis, further investigation is needed.
    One skeptical bit I can add is this: They don't give a date for the deviations related to the tsunami of late last year, only "December," so maybe they are trying to relate two unrelated things.

    Or maybe the boxes sensed the earths tectonic plates moving several weeks in advance (cue X-Files theme music)!
  • by ArcCoyote (634356) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @04:06AM (#11657748)
    This quite possibly has a simple explanation if you make a couple of assumptions that have largely been proven:

    The quantum states of subatomic particles are entwined with and affect the states of other particles. Essentially, entangled particles are the same particle existing in two or more places at once.

    Space and time are relative and functions of each other. Therefore, if a quantum particle or more precisely a unique quantum state can coexist in multiple spatial locations, it most certainly can coexist in multiple temporal locations. The "information" of quantum state changes is transferred between entangled particles instantly and over infinite distances without the use of any matter or energy. Therefore, the domains and constraints of space and time do not apply to quantum information.

    Ok, here comes the big assumption: If we assume consciousness is in part a function of quantum states, then consciousness can directly affect the universe without transfer of matter or energy and is not constrained by "real" space or time.

    The fact that ordinary random number generators are detecting an anomaly vs. some kind of specialized instrument just contributes more evidence to this theory. "True" random number generators typically work by amplifying and digitizing the static produced in an intentionally noisy circuit. Random electromagnetic energy is essentially the product of random quantum states. If something is influencing those states it will produce a pattern in the randomness.
  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @04:12AM (#11657768)
    Any stream of random numbers will work. If a *special* stream is required, then it's not random...

    No, this is incorrect. There exists an infinite variety of streams of random numbers, and not all of them have the same properties, nor are they of the same quality, nor would all random number sources normally be expected to react to outside events (like someone coming to the lab and "concentrating") in the same way. Random numbers can be gotten from a radioactive source (which might be one of thousands of different isotopes), rolling dice, unstable electronic circuits, dripping faucets, the weather, etc. All can map cleanly to a given range and can usually pass all tests used to determine whether or not a sequence is truly random. The pseudorandom numbers that are commonly used in computing (for example) are generated by linear congruential methods and they fail these tests; k-tuples of these numbers form a lattice structure when you plot them in k-dimensional space. If any stream of truly random numbers will work, then any of these sources can be used to predict the future!

    Now granted, this is all solidly in the realm of nonsense, so this discussion is already a bit esoteric. But if you seriously think that these guys are right and that outside events are reflected in their random number streams, then the question arises, is there a connection between these human-world events and the random number generator they're using, or is the connection between those events and the random numbers themselves- just by virtue of their randomness?

    I say it's between outside events and the particular generator being used, because that (although wildly implausible) is the weaker of these two claims- which are both whoppers. If the prediction comes from the numbers themselves, then the claim being made here is a much, much stronger claim- that any random process is somehow connected to major events in the human world. Now that's the sort of magic I stopped believing in by the time I was 4. (I don't buy the weaker claim either, but I have to acknowledge that it has an infinitely greater chance of being true than the stronger claim.)
  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @04:30AM (#11657864)
    I'll take your selective inclusion and raise you "Random number generators are most likely susceptible to interference."

    Yes, commercial/academic grade RNG are nice devices, but what happens when the world's communication infrastructures cry out in "Something has happened?" How does this affect even so-called shielded devices. How can this affect non-shielded computer components that aren't designed to be shielded from this. How does this affect AC levels coming from the socket in the wall.

    Regardless, skepdic has a nice write-up about PEAR here: http://skepdic.com/pear.html

    What gets me is that how so much of the fringe is trying very hard to make humans the center of the universe again. Once we were creatures made by gods, but Darwin proved otherwise. Once the Earth was the center of the universe, but Copernicus proved otherwise. Now, we have the New Age/Religious backlash to these discoveries coming from all over the place as man demands to be petulant child who is the most important thing in the universe, to the point of "psychicly" predicting major media events.

    Also, I take issue with the fact that there are events that are marginalized or dont get press in the US, but affect a good part of the world. Where are all the spikes for underreported stories or stories that don't get to westerners?

    From the global consciousness FAQ at princeton:
    During deeply engaging meetings, concerts, rituals, etc., the data tend to show slightly greater order, and we are able to predict this deviation with small but significant success.
    Oh, how handy! So if you get a spike you can ask "Where there any major concerts this weekend?" There are always major concerts or some cultural ritual that weekend, or that day, or that hour, depending on how well you want to fish out the event.

    I remember reading about PEAR years ago, and thought it was interesting, but man, they've been doing this for years and the best they can show are their data which barely goes above chance and a hypothesis that borders on something Aquanis would have written about? These guys have had all the time in the world to predict a great many things, but dont seem to be able to do anything but cherry-pick events to fit their data, not to mention I'm very concerned about how commercial grade RNGs plugged into unshielded computers handle themselves when cell phones, comm sats, TVs, etc start going off.

    I once asked Roger Nelson to be part of this research because he was asking for "eggs." He didnt need another machine in Chicago but told me he might in the future. Nothing came out of it. Eggs are just a computer with a RNG attached and PEAR's software running. The rest of my machine is pretty unshielded and if an event happens where lots more electromagnetic radiation surrounds it, it may very well affect it. Maybe not the RNG itself, but the cable to the PC or the interface or something in the PC could go off-kilter thus producing that 1% over chance they brag about. So, if this is how they run things, using volunteers with any old computer, well, its something to consider. Note: they do send you an external RNG, they dont use the one in your computer. I believe they use the parallel interface.

    Put these "eggs" 2 miles underground, do some double-blind samples with major events listed by date and time THEN pull your data and see if matches up. A third party should make the "event" list and princeton should do the stats work. Something tells me if you pulled this trick off, that little 1% or so might just disappear in a puff of good experiment design. Commodity computers above ground aren't exactly the most objective devices in the world.
  • by gilroy (155262) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @05:11AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 13, 2005 @05:24AM (#11658058)
    Listen, there are many causality based experiments in Quantum Mechanics relating to things like entanglement that change the outcome based on just the ability to observe the result. This doesn't really surprise me.
  • by koll64 (546377) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @05:37AM (#11658093)
    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.
  • by David Gould (4938) <david@dgould.org> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @06:53AM (#11658273) Homepage
    Good -- because, as we all know...

    "The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance"
    -Robert R. Coveyou, Oak Bridge National Laboratory

  • by RichardX (457979) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @07:37AM (#11658389) Homepage
    Digital monkeys [tninet.se] do a pretty reasonable job though (Java applet - simulates monkeys & keyboards, searches for Shakespeare)
  • I'm proposing that the generator is somehow tapping into the realm of probabilities. That it is detecting when probabilities are narrowing at certain times, allowing major world-changing events to come together. This kind of links in with participatory/final anthropic principle [space.com], and multiple universes [space.com] (whether they are tied together by string theory's yet unseen dimensions [space.com]).

    From those articles, it seems the existence of our consciousness threatens reality itself in its current form. Then again, this could all be like Kepler's "six planets" theories [space.com], or describing the sun as Zeus's son on a sky chariot.
  • 'Less random'??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gidds (56397) <slashdot@@@gidds...me...uk> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @02:56PM (#11660883) Homepage
    this random data is suddenly "less random".

    Erm... 'less random'? Does this phrase ring alarm bells with anyone else too?

    Either they mean 'random' in the information-theoretical sense, in which case they've clearly done a huge amount of work on various compression techniques and suchlike, or they're probably using it wrongly.

    When most people use 'random', what they really mean is 'randomly-generated'. For example, here's a random number: 43. Is that really random? How could you tell??? Maybe I picked my house number, maybe I pressed keys at random, maybe that's my favourite number...

    As books like The Bible Code, the work of Nostradamus, and umpteen others have shown: you can find significance and meaning in anything if you look hard enough! The knack is to find it when you don't know what results you're looking for; to make successful predictions. Without that, the whole project seems a bit 'random' to me...

  • by rbarreira (836272) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @06:38PM (#11662547) Homepage
    According to your link:

    Each day's data are stored in a single file with a header that provides complete identifying information, followed by the trial outcomes (sums of 200 bits) for each egg and each second. With 40 eggs running, there are well over 3 million trials generated each day, and the complete database at the end of 2001 occupies approximately 3 gigabytes of storage in a highly compressed form.


    So they're compressing something like:

    98 zeros (so obviously 102 ones, that doesn't need to be stored)
    90 zeros
    103 zeros ... ...
  • by simonfunk (592887) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @07:02PM (#11662750) Homepage
    This is just one example of many, taken from their own site, of the "scientific method" being employed here.

    From http://noosphere.princeton.edu/story.html

    "The main GCP prediction was similar to that for the preceding New Year, namely that there would be an accumulation of deviant EGG data during a 10 minute period around midnight. The result in this case was positive but not very impressive compared to the year before. On the other hand, a striking outcome was generated with a different analytical approach applied by Dean Radin. He predicted that the variation among the individual eggs (we had 27 running by this time) would decrease near the transition to the new year, and become very small just as everyone's focus centered on the stroke of midnight. His analysis showed a spectacular confirmation of that idea, with a highly improbable spike in the data, registering its greatest deviation just a few seconds from 12:00. The probability for this outcome was very impressive, on the order of 1 in 1000, even with an appropriate adjustment for multiple tests. As in other cases, this strong result provoked a flurry of independent analyses, and again we found that the exact definition of terms is a strong determinant of the outcome; some apparently similar approaches showed little evidence of an effect at midnight. [Emphasis added. And yet still he goes on to say...] Nevertheless, several converging analytical efforts appear to give support for the conclusion that the data around midnight going from 1999 to 2000 differ quite remarkably from the random quality they should have according to theory. In other words, the EGG data aren't random at that time, but instead show signs of having been affected by global consciousness."

    In other words: "If we look at the data after the fact in whatever ways make it appear meaningful, it appears meaningful."

    There is nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

    -Simon

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday February 13, 2005 @09:01PM (#11663658) Homepage
    The simulation might need to increase its recording rate of people's minds leading up the the event. Or whatever.

    Only if the masters of such a universe made a mistake or intended this result.

    If you are simulating a universe you can make as many measurements as you want, at whatever simulated-time-intervals that you want.

    For example, suppose I make a simulator that simulates a perfect electronic oscillator (no noise, etc.). I can have it generate a sine wave at a frequency of 1E9999 Hz with perfect accuracy. I can sample that waveform at a rate of 1E999999999999 Hz. I can do all this on an 8088 (assuming that it had enough storage to hold the desired number of samples).

    How can I do this? Simple - I never said I could do it in realtime. I could run my simulation over 100 simulated hours with perfect accuracy (well, within arbitrary precision, at least). Sure, it might take me 100,000 years to run the simulation, but I'd get the data and it wouldn't perturb the simulation at all.

    Likewise - if our universe is simulated there is no reason to believe that it is simulated in realtime. It is possible that 1000 years in the parent universe pass in the time it takes for one second to pass in our "simulated" universe. If they need to collect more data they can just slow down the simulation accordingly, and not sacrifice accuracy. If you were running a simulation of a scale the size of our universe and the apparent precision on the order of a plank length/time, then why would you mess up the laws of physics your simulation simply to collect a little more data for a short interval? The "butterfly effect" would make the long-term results of your simulation worthless after you've done this even once.

    If somebody were taking care to simulate an entire universe you'd have to assume that there would only be apparent errors in the simulation if the simulation designer intended them to be there...
  • by John Harrison (223649) <johnharrison@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Sunday February 13, 2005 @10:38PM (#11664257) Homepage Journal
    While in college I was asked to invite a psychic to the dorm to give a talk. I called and introduced myself and finally he asked how to get to the dorm. I bit my tongue to keep from saying, "You're psychic, you tell me!" In the end I met him at a gas station near the freeway exit and had him follow me to the dorm.

Machines certainly can solve problems, store information, correlate, and play games -- but not with pleasure. -- Leo Rosten

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