Not so many years ago, MIMOS Berhad developed random number generators. I and my team then were tasked to explore new technologies to provide information security solutions. Several variants of these generators were produced, and patents were granted.
Why the need for random numbers? These are central to the gaming industry, information security, computer simulations and, very recently, to big data analytics.
Random numbers are numbers which generators in principle cannot predict what will be their output at any point of time, and there exists no obvious pattern or trend influencing their generation. Consequently, there are no correlations between successive numbers.
Examples are sequences of numbers shown on the faces of the dices every time these are at rest after being thrown during a game of snakes and ladders or monopoly. It is clear random numbers are associated with ignorance: not knowing what is coming next, both at the level of the generators as well as at the level of the human observer (our naked eyes) or detector (instrument to measure such as a digital meter).
Interestingly, there exist pseudo random number generators and true random number generators. Examples of the former are numbers generated from a computer clock or from a computer programme.
After some time, one may see a pattern because these numbers will be repeated. The latter generate numbers from the physical world such as exploiting atmospheric noise or quantum noise. One may test how good a generator is by subjecting it to several tests which are easily done.
Pseudo random numbers are sufficient for video games and low-end security applications. For more complex applications like computer simulations predicting stock markets true random number generators are desirable.
Consider the smallest unit of information: the bit (binary digit) that is the state zero, 0 or state one, 1. For practical purposes random number generators produce strings of zeros and ones. Suppose we can produce instead a new state 0 and 1 simultaneously – the qubit (quantum binary digit). This new state allows a new paradigm for computation.
Besides allowing the generation of true random numbers, it also enables true parallel processing leading to state-of-the-art super computers called quantum computers. These are already available such as those developed by IBM and made accessible to the public via the cloud.
The strength of quantum computations lies in our ignorance about the state qubit. If this state is left alone, we cannot say much about it unlike its deterministic counter parts, the bits i.e. 0 or 1. Only when the qubit is disturbed or measured by a detector this will either register as an output the precise state zero, 0 or precise state one, 1, but never the state 0 and 1 (the qubit) simultaneously. Just like quantum random number generators, quantum computers perform best because we do not know much about the qubits. It has nothing to do with the accuracy of measuring devices. Instead, it is a consequence of the limitation set by the natural world.
In this context, ignorance is bliss!
Professor Dr Mohamed Ridza Wahiddin, a theoretical physicist by training, is the Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM).
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