Many people cried foul when last night’s Powerball draw produced a basic sequence of winning numbers – 5,6,7,8,9 and the bonus ball, 10.
There is, however, nothing strange about these numbers and they have exactly the same likelihood of emerging as any other set of six numbers.
Busisiwe Msizi, head of corporate relations at Ithuba, which runs the national lottery, dismissed any concerns of a rigged draw or system fault.
She said they use a random number generator which picks random winning numbers in the Lotto draw.
There is exactly the same chance – 1 in 42 million – of any six numbers being selected by the random number generator.
Commenting on the possibility of a system bug or human intervention to get these numbers, Msizi said this is not possible.
The computerized random number generator used by Ithuba is the same system used by lotteries across the world and is verified and audited.
“There is no human intervention at all with this particular system,” she said.
She added that after the numbers are selected, they are sent to their central system and also checked against the independent verification system by auditors.
“All of these numbers have to check out against all of the backup and verification systems,” Msizi said.
Msizi said while it may be strange for humans to see these numbers come up, it is just another batch of numbers to computers.
The numbers were also not drawn from smallest to largest. Instead, 8 was drawn first, 5 next, then 9, 7, 6, and 10.
These were therefore just six random numbers, similar to any other collection of six numbers drawn in the Powerball.
What is interesting is that all 20 winners picked their numbers manually, with no quick picks via the national lottery system.
The winners came from Gauteng, Northern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, and Limpopo.
Each of the 20 winners will receive R5,688,468.
Why it looks strange to see six consecutive numbers
Jamie Hale, a researcher specializing in cognitive science and scientific reasoning, explained humans have a tendency to see patterns everywhere.
“That’s important when making decisions and judgments and acquiring knowledge – we tend to be uneasy with chaos and chance,” he said.
“Unfortunately, that same tendency to see patterns in everything can lead to seeing things that don’t exist.”
Former NASA scientist Phil Albert added that humans are creatures of habit and trained to recognize false patterns.
“A true pattern that you miss noticing is more likely to kill you than a false pattern that doesn’t actually exist,” he said.
Humans, therefore, recognize a pattern in the six consecutive numbers in the lottery draw, where a machine just sees six random numbers out of a possible 50.
If you look at it from the perspective of the random number generator, it does not even know what 5 or 6 means.
It simply sees it as a group of 0s and 1s, and the six groups it selected is therefore similar to any other group out of the 42 million combinations.