Peter Bierhorst’s machine is no pinnacle of design. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains inside a facility for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the photon-generating behemoth spans an entire building. Its lasers, mirrors, and lenses are split among three laboratories, two of them at opposite ends of the L-shaped building. The whole thing is strung together with almost 900 feet of optical fiber. “It’s a prototype system,” the mathematician explains. “Something might drift out of alignment, and the whole thing stops working. It might take a few days to figure out what went wrong.”
On a good day, the machine produces 1,024 bits of data every 10 minutes, equivalent to typing 13 letters per minute. But it promises what even monkeys on typewriters can’t: completely random text.