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# An elegant way to randomly change every list member in Haskell

Randomness is a bit of a strange concept in Haskell.

As I discovered writing about Haskell and Randomness a few weeks ago, the best way to avoid doing everything inside the IO monad is to write functions that always return the random generator.

The crux of the matter is that random generators are long mathematical sequences. If you keep using the same index, you'll keep getting the same "random" value. You have to make sure the random generator progresses.

Increasing a number by a random value would look something like this:

import System.Random

addRand::(RandomGen g) => g -> Int -> (g, Int)
addRand gen x = let (a, gen') = randomR (0, 20) gen
in (gen', x+a)
main = do
generator <- newStdGen

print \$ snd \$ addRand generator 5
-- prints 15

While this approach is great for changing a single value, it breaks down when you try to randomly change a whole list:

print \$ map (snd . (addRand generator)) [1,1,1,1]
-- prints [11,11,11,11]

Bummer! We applied a random function to every list member. And got a list of identical values!

The problem is that every time addRand gets called, it uses the same random generator. This means we're always using the same number in the random generator series.

We need a way to perform a fold and a map at the same time. A map, so the function is applied to every list item and we get a new list, and a fold where the generator is used as the accumulator.

We might be tempted to write something like this monstrosity:

addRand'::(RandomGen g) => g -> [Int] -> [(g, Int)]

-- and then in main
print \$ map (snd) \$ addRand' generator [1,1,1,1]
-- prints [11,3,13,14]

This works. Every number in the list is different!

But the code is somewhat terrible and difficult to reason about.

Luckily, Haskell has got us covered and comes with a standard function called mapAccumL, which is a combination of a fold and a map:

print \$ snd \$ mapAccumL addRand generator [1,1,1,1]
-- prints [11,3,13,14]

Cleaner, less work, more obvious what's going on. And it just happens to be perfect for writing evolutionary algorithms in Haskell. But more on that later, hopefully as early as Friday.

Here's the whole code:

import System.Random
import Data.List

addRand::(RandomGen g) => g -> Int -> (g, Int)
addRand gen x = let (a, gen') = randomR (0, 20) gen
in (gen', x+a)

addRand'::(RandomGen g) => g -> [Int] -> [(g, Int)]

main = do
generator <- newStdGen

print \$ snd \$ addRand generator 5
-- prints 15

print \$ map (snd . (addRand generator)) [1,1,1,1]
-- prints [11,11,11,11]

print \$ map (snd) \$ addRand' generator [1,1,1,1]
-- prints [11,3,13,14]

print \$ snd \$ mapAccumL addRand generator [1,1,1,1]
-- prints [11,3,13,14]

Published on August 13th, 2012 in Algorithm, Evolutionary algorithm, Haskell, Programming, Random number generation, Randomness, Uncategorized

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