Can you spot the difference between something that is truly random, and something faked by a human? Find out the difference in this activity.
In this activity there are 16 pavers on the perimeter. Each raindrop has a 16/25 or 64% chance of falling in a box on the perimeter, which means that overall, there’s a pretty good chance that more drops will fall there. Maybe more surprisingly, there’s an almost 90% chance that two or more raindrops will fall on the same paver.
There are many mistakes that people make when they try to fake a random process. Some people assume that random numbers are more likely to happen near the middle or average. True random numbers happen all over the place, and a result all the way in the corner is just as likely as one in the middle. In fact, it’s more likely, because there are four corner pavers, and there’s only one middle paver!
Because the chance is the same for each paver, you might try to spread the dots out as evenly as possible. You might look at your grid and put the next dot in the largest gap. A random process will sometimes put a dot in the biggest gap, but sometimes it will put it in a small gap, or in the same square as another dot.
Imagine you did this activity with several classmates, and at the end, you mixed all the grids you drew together into a big pile. Do you think you could separate the made up ones from the ones drawn with dice?
Some of the made up pavements might be very easy to spot. If the drops make a smiley face, or they make a checkerboard, then there’s a very low chance they came from the dice. A statistician would be able to spot more detailed patterns. In one demonstration, statisticians were able to pick between 100 flips of a coin, and a made up list.
Detecting fake random numbers is very important for stopping crimes. These sorts of techniques have caught people cheating on their taxes, and even detected possible vote tampering in elections!
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