Book Review - 'Randomize' By Andy Weir
2023 January 27

I recently finished reading “Randomize” by Andy Weir. He is probably one of my favorite authors and comic creator (He used to have a web comic, and its awesome). His writing generally blends the right amount of real world science and entertaining characters for a technical audience. It’s a really good short story about how quantum computing will affect the gambling industry. It’s also part of an anthology called “Forward about various future technologies.

The story opens with an IT manager under fire for turning off the keno machines at a casino. A new quantum computer just dropped and is available at the consumer level compromising their pseudorandom number generators. The boss understands and the budget request is fulfilled for the casino to get their own quantum computer to generate true random numbers. The machine is installed, and it has a memory device hooked up to it. There’s a conversation with the salesperson about the security model, and how the machine is completely air gapped (but not really).

We then get a conversation with the wife of the salesperson. She’s a wicked smart quantum scientist. They have a plan to entangle the long term storage unit of one computer with one under their control, so it yields some predictable random numbers. This will get them the life they always desired. As the wife received a lot of education and support from her parents which bankrupted them. So she needs to pay them back.

She goes to Las Vegas, and buys the winning ticket matching all 9 keno numbers. After winning she is taken up to the casino managers office. He says that there was a background check performed on her earlier, and they know the machine was compromised. The IT manager is quite upset. He calls the police on her, and she needs to think of a solution to avoid going to jail. She eventually comes up with a reason not to be sent to the slammer by starting a company to create quantum random number generators that will break a couple years down the line. The casino manager will bankroll the startup. Just as the police are arriving the casino manager agrees to the plan. Although this doesn’t actually make a lot of sense to me, as his entire deal is ensuring the reputation of his industry and casino.

Overall, I rather enjoyed the story. It was a good look into the thought process of gambling and an interesting character study. Mr Weir definitely characterizes his people well, especially the manager. The science is pretty decent, but there’s no mention of the quality of random numbers or the reality of the contracting process in large enterprises (but that is boring and forgivable). The other part I feel lacking is the mention of supply chain security, but people weren’t making a big deal about it when this was written so can be hand waved away. Anything involving gambling is going to have crazy good chain of custody arrangements and such.

It’s also possible to generate random numbers with any quantum computation. Hardware random number generators have been around for years and are driven by physical processes like radioactive decay and various kinds of noise. Things that are unpredictable. The whole study of generating random numbers on systems is actually a really interesting topic. Mixing in various sources of randomness from the end user, and the noise admitted by the various processes. Super interesting stuff. Finally, I would like to share an online quantum noise generator ran by a university, it has some interesting ways of looking at the numbers generated.

As such the rating comes down to my entertainment and I have to give it a solid 3.8 out of 5.

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Written by Henry J Schmale on 2023 January 27
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