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Typewriting ‘Monkeys’ Actually Complete a Shakespeare Work


No monkeys were harmed during this project.

Two words you wouldn't expect having anything to do with a monkey: typewriting and Shakespeare. But au contraire: when the monkey's are virtual, anything is possible.

That, and there is a theorem -- the infinite monkey theorem -- which states that an infinite number of monkeys typing randomly will be able to produce the complete works of Shakespeare. One blogger, Jesse Anderson, says his millions of "monkeys," small computers using Amazon's EC2 cloud computing program,  are on their way. Most recently, they completed "A Lover's Complaint," making it the first Shakespearean work ever randomly reproduced. According to his blog, the monkeys will keep at it till all works are created.

Watch as Anderson explains the project:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/8MCHJGNmSts?version=3&hl=en_US expand=1]

The monkeys are programed to churn out sequences using nine characters. If the nine characters create a word that was found in one of Shakespeare's, it is "checked off the list." The Daily Telegraph has more:

The monkeys, which started typing on August 21, have already completed more than five trillion of the 5.5 trillion possible nine-letter combinations, but have so far only finished one whole work.

But the experiment is an imperfect reproduction of the infinite monkey theorem because it saves correct sections of text while discarding future wrong guesses, experts said.

Dr Ian Steward, emeritus professor of mathematics at Warwick University, said that for the monkeys to type up the complete works in the correct order without mistakes would take much longer than the age of the universe.

He told the BBC: "Along the way there would be untold numbers of attempts with one character wrong; even more with two wrong, and so on.

"Almost all other books, being shorter, would appear (countless times) before Shakespeare did."

Anderson's inspiration for starting this project in the first place? This clip from "The Simpsons:"

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/JcSUWP0QNeY?version=3&hl=en_US expand=1]

Anderson writes on his blog that he realizes there are different interpretations of the theorem and that he doesn't have infinite resources. He also notes that no real monkeys were harmed during this challenge.

Believe it or not, a study in 2003 actually used six Sulawesi Crested Macaques, a type of black ape, to test out this theory. Before the trial was ended a month later, the apes had typed five pages, none of which held a single English word.

[H/T Gawker]

A correction has been made to this story.

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