Monday, February 19, 2007

Randomness vs Predictability

Tanya Wikipedia:

Randomness versus unpredictability

Randomness is an objective property. Nevertheless, what appears random to one observer may not appear random to another observer. Consider two observers of a sequence of bits, only one of which who has the cryptographic key needed to turn the sequence of bits into a readable message. The message is not random, but is for one of the observers unpredictable.

One of the intriguing aspects of random processes is that it is hard to know whether the process is truly random. The observer can always suspect that there is some "key" that unlocks the message. This is one of the foundations of superstition.

Under the cosmological hypothesis of determinism there is no randomness in the universe, only unpredictability.

Some mathematically defined sequences exhibit some of the same characteristics as random sequences, but because they are generated by a describable mechanism they are called pseudo-random. To an observer who does not know the mechanism, the pseudo-random sequence is unpredictable.

Chaotic systems are unpredictable in practice due to their extreme dependence on initial conditions. Whether or not they are unpredictable in terms of computability theory is a subject of current research. At least in some disciplines of computability theory the notion of randomness turns out to be identified with computational unpredictability.

It is important to remember that the randomness of a phenomenon is not itself random and can often be precisely characterized, usually in terms of probability or expected value. For instance quantum mechanics allows a very precise calculation of the half-lives of atoms even though the process of atomic decay is a random one. More simply, though we cannot predict the outcome of a single toss of a fair coin, we can characterize its general behavior by saying that if a large number of tosses are made, roughly half of them will show up "Heads". Ohm's law and the kinetic theory of gases are precise characterizations of macroscopic phenomena which are random on the microscopic level.


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