Random and Pseudorandom

13 Jan, 2011 510 Mathematics

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss randomness and pseudorandomness.Randomness is the mathematics of the unpredictable. Dice and roulette wheels produce random numbers: those which are unpredictable and display no pattern. But mathematicians also talk of ‘pseudorandom’ numbers - those which appear to be random but are not. In the last century random numbers have become enormously useful to statisticians, computer scientists and cryptographers. But true randomness is difficult to find, and mathematicians have devised many ingenious solutions to harness or simulate it. These range from the Premium Bonds computer ERNIE (whose name stands for Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) to new methods involving quantum physics.Digital computers are incapable of behaving in a truly random fashion - so instead mathematicians have taught them how to harness pseudorandomness. This technique is used daily by weather forecasters, statisticians, and computer chip designers - and it’s thanks to pseudorandomness that secure credit card transactions are possible.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Marcus du Sautoy 15 episodes
    Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford
  • Colva Roney-Dougal 11 episodes
    Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews
  • Timothy Gowers 4 episodes
    Royal Society Research Professor in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge

Related episodes

Programme ID: b00x9xjb

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00x9xjb

Auto-category: 510 (Mathematics)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, a little earlier today I rolled a single die 10 times.