National Savings and Investments random number generator Ernie has taken a quantum leap as the fifth generation of the technology has been launched, meaning Premium Bond numbers are now drawn in just 12 minutes.
The new Ernie is a chip around the size of a grain of rice, whereas the original version from 1957 was 3.5 metres long, weighed 1,500kg and was described as being the size of a van.
All previous Ernies have used thermal noise to produce random numbers – but Ernie 5 is powered by quantum technology, with the ability to produce random numbers through light.
Roughly 22million people hold Premium Bonds, with nearly £80billion invested. The draw offers two monthly jackpot prizes of £1million and an average return of 1.4 per cent.
Johnny 5: Another ingenious robot featuring the number five, from the film Short Circuit
They were launched by Prime Minister Harold MacMillan in the Budget on April 1956, with the hopes of bond holders across the UK and overseas resting on Ernie.
Ernie 4 will spend its retirement in Bletchley Park, home of the code breakers, after being handed to the National Museum of Computing.
The concept for the first Ernie was created there by codebreaker Tommy Flowers, who had previously built the code-breaking Colossus during the Second World War.
The way people can check prizes has also evolved over the years.
Customers can now check prizes through the official NS&I Premium Bonds prize checker Alexa skill as well as by using the prize checker on nsandi.com and downloading the official Premium Bonds prize checker app from the Apple App store or Google Play.
Since the first Premium Bonds millionaire in 1994, more than 400 new millionaires have been paid a visit by Agent Million.
The odds of any individual Bond number winning a prize is currently 24,500 to 1
NS&I – which is a state-owned savings bank – also announced March’s Premium Bond winners.
Premium Bonds winners
More Premium Bonds winners
A man from Somerset and a woman from Buckinghamshire have been named the first million pound jackpot prize winners to be generated by Ernie 5.
The Somerset winner, who holds the maximum £50,000 in Premium Bonds, has held the winning Bond since September 2015.
March’s second millionaire holds £33,116 in Premium Bonds, and purchased the winning Bond in May 2016.
More than 3.2million prizes worth £92million will be paid out this month. This is Money has its own tool that publishes details of all the major monthly prize winners, from £1million to £1,000.
Ian Ackerley, chief executive of NS&I, said: ‘Premium Bonds are as popular as ever before and Ernie has been an integral part of that journey, changing the lives of millions of our customers since 1957.
‘But Ernie and Premium Bonds are also moving with the times; Ernie, using quantum technology, will now be able to generate the millions of numbers required at a much faster pace, continuing to give customers a chance to have some fun while having a secure place for their savings.
‘Meanwhile customers can use digital channels to check and manage Premium Bonds – from asking Alexa to check prizes to getting prizes paid directly into their bank account – saving and winning is easier, faster, and more accessible than ever before’.
Six myths about Ernie
According to NS&I, Ernie – who carries the hopes of 22million people upon his electronic shoulders – is so well-loved that he receives Christmas and Valentine cards every year and has even gone on display at The Science Museum.
However, NS&I also says that a number of untrue myths have grown up around Ernie and Premium Bonds since its inception in 1956:
1. Ernie isn’t really random – Each month, the Government Actuary’s Department does an independent check to ensure Ernie’s output is random.
GAD then issues a certificate to confirm that it has no reason to believe the draw isn’t random. NS&I can only publish numbers and pay out prizes when that certificate has been issued.
2. You need to invest £50,000 to win the jackpot – Jackpot winners have a varied amount invested – one winner of the £1million jackpot only had £17 in Premium Bonds.
3. Only new Bonds win prizes – Each £1 Bond has an equal chance of winning, regardless of when or where it was bought.
Over 95 per cent of eligible Bonds have been bought since the year 2000.
Even though Premium Bonds have been on sale for over 60 years, this is why newer Bonds seem to win more frequently.
4. Old Bonds are left out of the draw – As numbers aren’t entered into Ernie, there’s no way any Bonds can be left out of the draw.
Ernie generates the winning numbers randomly and then NS&I match them against eligible Bonds.
5. Only Bonds from the South East win prizes – If it seems that more prizes are won by holders in the South East, that’s because there are more Bonds held there compared with the rest of the UK.
6. The more Bonds sold, the smaller my chances of winning – The prize fund for each draw is a month’s interest on all eligible Bonds in the draw, so the more Bonds NS&I sell, the bigger the prize fund