Chip Developed By Intel Uses Heat To Generate Numbers

Chip Developed By Intel Uses Heat To Generate Numbers

This is slightly old, but New Scientist are describing a chip developed by Intel which uses heat to generate random numbers for a prize draw in the UK. The chip, known as ERNIE 4, can generate a million truly random numbers an hour. Why do we say “truly random”? It’s because normal computer generated random numbers are generated using a mathematical formula. If you knew the formula, and knew the last random number, you could generate the next number in the sequence. True random numbers mean you can never predict or calculate what comes next – vitally important for cryptography, and even for very sensitive modelling, etc.

Of course, this isn’t as cool as using lava lamps or webcams (a good read!) to generate your random numbers, but all rely on the same principle – random fluctuations. Heat fluctuations in a chip, random noise in a video sensor or the hypnotising flows of oil in your lava lamp – all these schemes take something natural and large scale and process it to turn it into usable, digital, random numbers. (Interestingly, the webcam scheme is free – opensource, in fact! This makes good random numbers accessible to everyone, where previously it was very expensive. Good on ‘em!)

Some quotes out of the New Scientist article that I like: The chip has “been designed to be tamper resistant and immune to the threats of hackers.” As opposed to what, exactly? Do you typically design chips to be easily hacked into? And, supporting that statement, “It is not connected to the outside world except by a plug”. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean a powerplug rather than a phoneline! Of course, there’s nothing to stop the lottery organisers from hacking into it in person…

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