London: Given enough time, a monkey with a
typewriter would reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare,
says a famous hypothesis. Now, it`s almost proved.
American researchers have created an army of millions of
virtual monkeys, who have almost typed out the entire works of
Shakespeare by bashing random keys on simulated typewriters.
The virtual monkeys, developed by programmer Jesse
Anderson, have already typed up the whole of the poem "A
Lover`s Complaint" and are 99.99 per cent of the way through
the Bard`s complete works, a newspaper reported.
Anderson said he was inspired by an episode of "The
Simpsons", which spoofs the famous hypothesis that an infinite
number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters
would eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare by chance.
Using Amazon`s SC2 cloud computing system, Anderson set
up millions of small computer programmes, or virtual monkeys,
and programmed them to churn out random sequences of nine
If the nine-letter sequence appears anywhere in one of
Shakespeare`s writings, it is matched against the relevant
passage in a copy of the Bard`s complete works, and is checked
off the list.
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.
"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," he said.
Writing on his blog, Anderson said: "This is the largest
work ever randomly reproduced. It is one small step for a
monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere.
"I understand the definition of infinite and infinite
monkey theorem and I realise that this project does not have
"No monkeys were harmed during the making of this code.
This project is my attempt to find a creative way to attain an
answer without infinite resources."
In 2003 the Arts Council for England paid 2,000 pounds
for a real-life test of the theorem involving six Sulawesi
crested macaques, but the trial was abandoned after a month.
The monkeys produced five pages of text, mainly composed
of the letter S, but failed to type anything close to a word
of English, broke the computer and used the keyboard as a
First Published: Tuesday, September 27, 2011, 18:31