"This is just people using big science words to sound magical"
August 2, 2020 4:19 AM   Subscribe

Randonautica claims to be a "quantumly generated Choose Your Own Adventure game" for smartphones. With over 10 million downloads and often false or exaggerated viral videos on TikTok and YouTube, the app has been criticised for saying it can read your thoughts (NYT). Daniel J. Rogers, a physicist who has worked with quantum random number generators, called Randonautica’s "mind-machine interaction" theory “completely absurd.”
posted by adrianhon (38 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was wondering when this would pop up here. I caught onto this last week and I'm genuinely fascinated by it. I poo-poo any physics woo claims by the devs, but it seems like there's some fun to be had nevertheless, kind of like paranormal geocaching.

There is, of course, a Reddit sub for it where people post pics/vids of their finds.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:11 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


Ancillary, but they say:

Obey all quarantine, curfew and social distancing regulations in your area.

And I didn't bat an eye. Could you imagine reading something like this even a year ago? Positively dystopian.

Anyway, I had never heard of this before, but it somehow grabbed the entirety of my attention. I'm not sure that was adrianhon's intent in posting this, but I am hooked before I even started.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:17 AM on August 2, 2020 [9 favorites]


I’ve tried this app several times. One time it tried to get me to trespass in a train yard by a river. For the most part it wasn’t that exciting in a city setting so I gave up. Might be worth picking up on a road trip.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:56 AM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


It always tries to send me on a 30-minute hike that would leave me, I believe, over my head off the coast of Lake Erie. Make of this what you will.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:26 AM on August 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


Just scrolling through the reddit you could randomly swap "intentions" and photos and someone looking for a synchronicity would still find one. Humans are pattern matchers, it's what we do.

For chrissakes entire kingdoms have risen and fallen based on the prognostication of how many ravens the king saw one evening, and which direction they were flying.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:28 AM on August 2, 2020 [10 favorites]


When I was a kid I used to just wander around and notice shit.
posted by nanojath at 6:31 AM on August 2, 2020 [24 favorites]


When I was a kid I used to just wander around and notice shit.
Without making money for someone? The old days were truly barbaric.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:43 AM on August 2, 2020 [38 favorites]


Could you imagine reading something like this even a year ago? Positively dystopian.

Even more dystopian is the understanding that the quarantine, curfew and social distancing regulations in one's area are not sufficient.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 6:51 AM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


I used to just wander around and notice shit

There's an app for that.
posted by flabdablet at 6:52 AM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


Obey all quarantine, curfew and social distancing regulations in your area.

And I didn't bat an eye. Could you imagine reading something like this even a year ago? Positively dystopian.
REMAIN INDOORS
posted by springo at 6:56 AM on August 2, 2020 [10 favorites]


Quantum woo is somehow the worst kind of woo. If you want to talk about auras and chakras and ESP, that's fine, just don't drag actual science into it.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:12 AM on August 2, 2020 [5 favorites]


“Basically if you’re looking for any kind of peer-reviewed, scientific consensus, that does not exist yet in the literature,” Mr. Lengfelder said in a TikTok video in June, speaking about the theory. Instead, he pointed to the work of Dean Radin, a prominent figure in the pseudoscientific field of parapsychology,

Sounds legit
posted by vacapinta at 7:19 AM on August 2, 2020 [7 favorites]


Literaryhero: I find the whole thing very woo but I’m fascinated by its popularity and that it gets people to go outside and do things, which in my experience is very difficult for apps to accomplish. I mean, from a technical perspective it’s trivial, it’s really the way it’s dressed up that’s impressive.
posted by adrianhon at 7:28 AM on August 2, 2020


Less parapsychology, more 'pataphysics!
posted by phooky at 7:38 AM on August 2, 2020 [4 favorites]


The mind-machine interaction of a magic 8-ball is absurd too but it’s still fun!
posted by stinkfoot at 7:39 AM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


signs point to monetization
posted by flabdablet at 7:42 AM on August 2, 2020 [7 favorites]


The real miracle here is the friends we made along the waythat people still believe everything that randos on a subreddit say actually happened. (See also: /r/relationships, /r/amitheasshole.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


/r/amitheasshole

They should have named it /r/amitupyourpoopchute
posted by Cardinal Fang at 8:04 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


The NYT article says that Randonautica is based on old Fatum Project code. I've found an old fork of the project and it's... well, it's basically as simple under the hood as most woo is.

The RNG generation is not an issue. It pulls random data from the ANU quantum random number generator. This generator is legit and claims to test continuously for uniform distribution. (Fatum Project code can also pull random numbers from a weird little dongle called a Psyleron REG-1. I'm ignoring this.) The code likely generates random coordinates from random data correctly, but this is something else I didn't look into - it looks like a bunch of transformation math, which is what I'd expect, and I'll take it on faith.

So, on to the more magic parts. The code will pull 100 points, choose the closest point to the average, and call that a Quantum Attractor. It will then pull 100 points, mirror them, choose the closest point to the average, and call that a Quantum Repeller. And... that's all it does.
posted by suckerpunch at 8:08 AM on August 2, 2020 [6 favorites]


seanmpuckett: Just scrolling through the reddit you could randomly swap "intentions" and photos and someone looking for a synchronicity would still find one. Humans are pattern matchers, it's what we do.

Yep, I've been using this to pick random places to take walks to, and setting an intention just primes me to notice certain things more than others. I've been having a good time, though: there's a lot of neat stuff around my city that I wouldn't otherwise notice.
posted by capricorn at 8:33 AM on August 2, 2020


I've been using this to pick random places to take walks to

What little ms. flabdablet and I do is just start on out, then whenever we have an opportunity to choose to turn left or right, we play a round of Rock Paper Scissors. If she wins it we turn to her side, if I win it we turn to mine.

No batteries required.
posted by flabdablet at 8:46 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


Endless Thread did an episode looking into this. There's no there there, unless, of course, you want there to be.
posted by progosk at 8:55 AM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


So, other than huckstering people to pay money for the full version of the app, what else is the app mining for profit from the user input? Obviously location data (if that's at all valuable). What else could it be grabbing that might be profitable on the open market?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:58 AM on August 2, 2020


You can criticize it all you want but if it works for people.. then it works for people.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2020


...if it works for people.. then it works for people

So true. Now, I have a warehouse full of hydroxychloroquine I'm trying to unload. Would you be interested in an investment?
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2020 [6 favorites]


I came to say what Capricorn said: I use this every day for my daily bike ride, and it’s a lot of fun.

I absolutely don’t believe any of the woo, but I still play along and set an intention anyway and sometimes the coincidences have been amusing, startling, even moving. (A recent trip I focused on “gratitude” and my destination had a house with a “You Are My Sunshine” yard flag (!?), a song my mom would sing every morning to wake me up when I was a little kid. So I called her up and told her how grateful I was for her.)

Again, I 100% believe that this is just my brain trying to find patterns, but that’s fun to explore as well. I was an English major, I love trying to find symbolism in something even if it’s not there by design. And it gets me to check out parts of my town I otherwise might not go to.

The quantum physics marketing gimmick is silly, absolutely, but it’s also very easily ignored. I just look at the app as a random bike ride generator with a light Art Bell theme pasted over it.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:02 AM on August 2, 2020 [11 favorites]


There are people out there who will take this kind of thing very seriously. I'm reminded of the "you are swimming in it; your daughter is drowning" quote from Jung about James Joyce.

There's nothing wrong with this app in itself in my view, but there is something slightly, not hugely, but slightly wrong with promoting the dishonest quantum consciousness story, even with a wink.
posted by vogon_poet at 12:04 PM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


We had a big discussion about this last August, if anyone’s interested in some earlier insights.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:21 PM on August 2, 2020 [3 favorites]


So, other than huckstering people to pay money for the full version of the app, what else is the app mining for profit from the user input?

It would be a lot more complicated for them to mine user data for the open market themselves than to just give ad providers permission to collect it in the form of banner ads. Either that or pay $X to upgrade, the app developer gets $ either way.
posted by rhizome at 12:28 PM on August 2, 2020


When I was a kid I used to just wander around and notice shit.


From their very verbose FAQ:
What is a blind spot? Why can’t I just walk randomly without an app?

If your goal is to find completely new places that you didn't know about before, you should take into account the inherent determinism of the macro-world. Any decision that we make, as a rule, is the result of certain associations and logical processes, depending on our experience, external conditions and a number of other things. Such processes can be random only partially, and the space of outcomes that they create is limited. Thus, you can find new places just by walking by chance, but there will always be places that you cannot find without using a randomizer, because none of the patterns of your thinking and your actions lead to them. We call such places blind spots. Blind spots are places we, by definition, cannot even think of heading to.
And it just so happens their app is the randomizer. How convenient.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:11 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


dérive, the app.

Hang on. There is a dérive app by that very name!
posted by doctornemo at 2:40 PM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


Interesting, when I was using this as part of the Fatum Project stuff I never got the impression that the creators took any of the woo seriously. To me it seemed like a layer of storytelling and world building on top of a very basic mechanic.
posted by WaylandSmith at 3:50 PM on August 2, 2020 [2 favorites]


Now, I have a warehouse full of hydroxychloroquine I'm trying to unload. Would you be interested in an investment?

Bad analogy. Try again.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:57 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


you can find new places just by walking by chance, but there will always be places that you cannot find without using a randomizer

From a contradiction, everything follows.
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


Random walks almost certainly have a different distribution than whatever this app uses, so there are almost certainly places you'd be much less likely to find by wandering than by picking the destination from an app.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:10 AM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


I suppose that a self-directed random walk is only pseudorandom because the the pedestrian is both consciously and unconsciously choosing where to go, even the choice of previously unvisited areas. Now, you don't need a New Age quantum app to tell you where to go, but any external source might make things a little more random than self-directed wandering.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:48 AM on August 3, 2020


Reminds me of Randall Munroe's geohashing which uses stock market values and an algorithm to generate a point in every 1x1 graticule on the planet.

Seems a bit more boring, because you're not going to be meeting anyone else, and way more lame because it is so relentlessly hyped.
posted by shenkerism at 11:12 AM on August 3, 2020


This is interesting--the only reason I'd heard of Randonautica was because the suitcase murders here in Seattle. The way people were talking about it didn't really give much of a clue about what, specifically, it was about, and I kind of ignored it as a kids these days thing. Thanks for posting this.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 1:49 PM on August 4, 2020


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