The Art of Computer Programming

The Art of Computer Programming

CHAPTER 3:  Random Numbers
VERSE 16:      In a sense, there is no such thing as a random number; for example, is 2 a random number?

Knuth's mammoth work, covering the entire field of computer science and its supporting mathematics, remained unfinished at his death.  Some 48 volumes have been recovered to date and at least two dozen others are known to have existed, including the one in which Knuth first presented his brilliant resolution of the P vs. NP question.  All copies of one volume on Operating Systems seem to have been deliberately destroyed.  (Legend states that Knuth subjected a well-known commercial operating system to analysis, and the results became known to the ruthless and predatory head of the company.  It seems unlikely, however, that a single industry leader could have so much power.)

The quotation here shows that Knuth was unaware of a later theorem demonstrating that 2 is actually an extremely random number. This counterintuitive result may have been proved by an obscure computer scientist named Erdos or Erdös, about whom we know nothing except that his Knuth number was, coincidentally, 2.

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Copyright © 20002 Larry Denenberg