random number

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random number (plural random numbers)

  1. Used other than figuratively or idiomatically: see random,‎ number.
  2. A number allotted randomly using suitable generator (electronic machine or as simple "generator" as die).
  3. A number selected based on a uniform distribution, typically using a suitable generator (for example, rolling a die).
    • 1975, Gregory Chaitin, "Randomness and Mathematical Proof", Scientific American, (232), May 1975, pp. 47–52, reprinted in Information, Randomness & Incompleteness: Papers on Algorithmic Information Theory
      Tossing a coin is a classical procedure for producing a random number .... Tossing a coin 20 times can produce any one of 220 ... binary series, and each of them has exactly the same probability.
    • 1998, Stuart Mealing, The Art and Science of Computer Animation, Intellect Books, page 208:
      A random number is a precisely defined mathematical concept in which every number should have an equal likeliness of occurrence....
    • 2009, Larry Rittenberg, Karla Johnstone, Audrey Gramling, Auditing: A Business Risk Approach, Cengage Learning, page 362:
      To randomize the selection process, a random number from 1 to 50 should be used ... This could be done, for example, by using the last two digits of the serial number on a dollar bill. If those digits were 87, subtract 50, leaving 37.
  4. A pseudorandom number.
    • 1970, Robert Coveyou (attributed)
      The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance.

Usage notes

  • Context allows for non-uniform distributions, especially in technical applications. But if the underlying generation was expected to be uniform but was not (dice were loaded, lottery machine balls were weighted, or data satisfying Benford's law was inappropriately used) the results are considered "non-random", even though mathematically, they were merely selected using a different distribution.

Derived terms