The DeDeterminator Uses Quantum Physics To Make Decisions So You Don’t Have To

Are you making your own decisions and mainlining causality like a sucker? Why go through the agony, when you could hand over the railway switch of determinism to a machine that can decide things for you! Enter the DeDeterminator, a decision machine from [Oliver Child].

The construction is simple enough, being built inside a small tin. One kind of wishes it had a secret third “PERHAPS” bulb that illuminates only when the universe’s continued existence has been called into question.

The idea is simple. At the press of a button, the DeDeterminator illuminates a bulb—indicating either yes or no. The decision for which bulb to illuminate is truly random, as it’s determined by the radioactive decay of a Americium-241 alpha particle source. A Geiger-Muller tube is used to detect alpha particles, with the timing between detections used to determine the yes-or-no output of the device.

It’s a neat concept, and it’s kind of fun knowing that your decision is both out of your hands and as random as it could possibly be. Would the universe guide you wrong? Who could possibly question the reasoning of the particles? The only rational move could be to comply with whatever directive the box hath given. Just don’t ask it to make any decisions with dangerous outcomes.

We’ve featured other projects using radioactive decay for random number generation before, though they weren’t quite as philosophically intriguing as the DeDeterminator. Mostly they’re just about cryptographic security and such, but some do deal with causality in imaginary spaces, which has its own magic about it.

Meanwhile, if you’ve untangled the quantum chains of cause and effect, or you’ve just found a way to break RSA encryption using a Pi Pico, do drop us a line, won’t you?

Random Number Generation By Brain

If you want to start an argument in certain circles, claim to have a random number generation algorithm. Turns out that producing real random numbers is hard, which is why people often turn to strange methods and still, sometimes, don’t get it right. [Hillel Wayne] wanted to get a “good enough” method that could be done without a computer and found the answer in an old Usenet post from random number guru [George Marsaglia].

The algorithm is simple. Pick a two-digit number — ahem — at random. OK, so you still have to pick a starting number. To get the next number, take the top digit, add six, and then multiply by the bottom digit. So in C:  n1=(n/10+6)*(n%10). Then use the last digit as your random number from 0 to 9. Why does it work? To answer that, the post shows some Raku code to investigate the behavior.

In particular, where does the magic number 6 come into play? The computer program notes that not any number works well there. For example, if you used 4 instead of 6 and then started with 13, all your random digits would be 3. Not really all that random! However, 6 is just a handy number. If you don’t mind a little extra math, there are better choices, like 50.

If you think humans are good at picking random numbers, ask someone to pick a number between 1 and 4 and press them to do it quickly. Nearly always (nearly) they will pick 2. However, don’t be surprised when some people pick 141. Not everyone does well under pressure.

If you want super random numbers, try a lava lamp. Or grab some 555s and a few Nixie tubes.

Using Nuclear Decay As Random Number Generator Source For An MCU

Although there are many ways to get a random number generator (RNG) set up on a microcontroller, it’s hard to argue with the sheer randomness of the various kinds of radiation zipping all around us from nuclear decay events. For [gbonacini] the purchase of a Geiger counter first in 2022 was the reason to tinker with using these as the source for an RNG, which simply runs a counter until a Geiger counter event occurs that ‘selects’ a number and the counter is reset to zero.

With the next version of this system the hardware and layout has changed somewhat, using a commercial handheld Geiger counter (GMC-320+) and its audio output as a generic input for any MCU. The (pulsed) audio signal is amplified with an opamp (left unspecified) that connects to a GPIO pin of the MCU (RP2040-based Pico W). Here the same algorithm is used to create a continuous queue of randomly picked numbers, which can also be queried via the WiFi interface with a custom protocol, essentially making it a network-connected RNG that could be used by other network-connected appliances.

C++ source is provided for the Pico W example, but it should be easy enough to adapt to other platforms. The GMC-320+ is also among the more affordable Geiger counters out there, even if it’s somewhat bulky to pair with just a single MCU, making a more basic Geiger counter module better for a permanent installation. Either way you should get pretty good RNG this way without splurging on exotic hardware.

Thanks to [navigator] for the tip.

Roll The Radioactive Dice For Truly Random D&D Play

When you have a bunch of people gathered around a table for a “Dungeons & Dragons” session, you have to expect that things are not always going to go smoothly. After all, people who willingly create and immerse themselves in an alternate reality where one bad roll of the dice can lead to the virtual death of a character they’ve spent months or years with can be traumatic. And with that trauma comes the search for the guilty — it’s the dice! It’s always the dice!

Eliminating that excuse, or at least making it statistically implausible, is the idea behind this radioactively random dice roller. It comes to us from [Science Shack] and uses radioactive decay to generate truly random numbers, as opposed to the pseudorandom number generators baked into most microcontrollers. The design is based on [AlphaPhoenix]’s muon-powered RNG, but with a significant twist: rather than depending on background radiation, [Science Shack] brought the power of uranium to the party.

They obtained a sample of autunite, a weird-looking phosphate mineral that contains a decent amount of uranium, perfect for stimulating the Geiger counter built into the dice roller. Autunite also has the advantage of looking very cool under UV light, taking on a ghostly “fuel rod glow,” in the [Homer Simpson] sense. The decay-powered RNG at the heart of this build is used to simulate throws of every standard D&D die, from a D4 to a D100. The laser-cut hardboard case holds all the controls and displays, and also has some strategically placed openings to gaze upon its glowing guts.

We really like the design, but we have to quibble with the handling of the uranium ore; true, the specific activity of autunite is probably pretty low, but it seems like at least some gloves would have been in order.

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Yes We Have Random Bananas

If you ask a normal person to pick a random number, they’ll usually just blurt out a number. But if you ask a math-savvy person for a random number, you’ll probably get a lecture about how hard it is to pick a truly random number. But if you ask [Valerio Nappi], you might just get a banana.

His post, which is in two parts, details how what computers generate are actually pseudo-random numbers. You can easily make sure that every number has the same probability of selection as any other number. The problem is that you have to start with something — usually called a seed. For the purposes of playing games, for example, you can grab some source of entropy like how many microseconds since a hardware timer last rolled over, the number of input pulses you’ve received from a mouse lately, or how long you had to wait for the enter key to depress after asking the user to press it. But if you know that seed and the algorithm you can perfectly predict what number the computer will generate next so it isn’t truly random.

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Dice Rolls From The Beginning Of Time

Generating random numbers might seem like a trivial task, that is until the numbers need to be truly random for cryptography or security reasons. When that’s the case, it turns out that these numbers are really “pseudo-random” and follow a predictable pattern. Devices that can produce truly random numbers often do it by sampling random events in the real world rather than relying on a computer to do it directly, like this machine which simulates a dice roll by looking at the cosmic microwave background radiation.

The cosmic microwave background radiation exists in the infrared at the farthest edges of the observable universe as a remnant of the big bang. It’s an excellent source of randomness, but tapping into it poses a bit of a challenge. For this build, [iSax] is using an old Soviet-era Geiger tube to detect the appropriate signal, and a Nixie tube to display the dice roll. After the device detects two particles from the Big Bang, the device measures the amount of time that passed between the detection of both particles and uses this number to calculate the dice roll.

While it takes a little bit longer to roll this dice than a traditional one since it has to wait to detect the right kind of particles, if you really need the randomness it can’t be beat. It certainly works as dice, but we can also see some use for generating truly random numbers for other applications as well. For some other sources of random inspiration be sure to check out our own [Voja Antonic]’s deep dive into truly random number generation.

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Random Numbers From A Smoke Detector

The quest for truly random numbers is something to which scientists and engineers have devoted a lot of time and effort. The trick is to find an unpredictable source of naturally occurring noise that can be sampled, so they have looked towards noisy gas discharge tubes or semiconductor junctions, and radioactive decay. Noisy electrical circuits have appeared in these pages before as random number generators, but we’d be forgiven for thinking that radioactive decay might involve something a little less run-of-the-mill. In fact we all probably have just such a device in our houses, in the form of the ionisation chamber that’s part of most household smoke detectors. [Lukas Koch] has built a project that shows us just how this can be done.

A smoke detector of this type uses a metal shell to house a tiny sample of radioactive americium that emits alpha particles into the space between two electrodes. These ionise the air in that space, and the detectable effect on the space between the two electrodes is increased when ionised gasses from smoke are present. However it can also quite happily detect the ionisation from individual alpha particles, which means that it’s perfect as a source of random noise. A sensitive current amplifier requires significant shielding to avoid the device merely becoming a source of mains hum, and to that end he’s achieved a working breadboard prototype.

This is still a work in progress and though it has as yet no schematic he promises us that it will arrive in due course. It’s a project that’s definitely worth watching, because despite getting more up-close and personal than most of us have with radioactive components, it’s one we’re genuinely interested to see come to fruition.

Of course, we’ve seen smoke detectors in more detail before here at Hackaday.