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Contributions of Randomness


I believe randomness is very important for improving many areas of life. I've written about randomness a few times here. Here is a sampling of some instances: Weighted Exercise, Random Numbers, Evolution: Technically Random?, Using Pseudo-random Numbers to Solve Mathematical Problems, Frequentism, or How the World Works, Lay's Do Us a Flavor Contest, Randomized Dinner Planning, and Creating Haiku.

It has been said that "variety is the spice of life". One can use randomness in spicing up exercise routines, overcoming boredom, choosing a restaurant to eat out at, making flash cards for studying any topic, to modern science being able to make inferences of cause and effect and from samples to populations (just these two examples have revolutionized the world), revitalizing chess with randomized starting positions, casinos, lotteries, making fair decisions, making scatterplots more readable by jittering, making video game experiences different with each play, generating strong passwords, shuffling the music you listen to, in endeavors such as poetry and art, and on and on. Random numbers play a huge role in modern life.

I read this fascinating paper recently. It talks about a method of ensuring survey respondent privacy ("differential privacy", see The Algorithmic Foundations of Differential Privacy), which is being used more and more in government and private industry. I wanted to share it because I thought it was very deep and useful:

"Randomization is essential; more precisely, any non-trivial privacy guarantee that holds regardless of all present or even future sources of auxiliary information, including other databases, studies, Web sites, on-line communities, gossip, newspapers, government statistics, and so on, requires randomization."

Add this to the ever-growing list of contributions of randomness making the world a better place.

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