Posted in Blog Archive

Posted by abeodbart September 27, 2011 at 8:01 am


“A few million virtual monkeys are close to re-creating the complete works of Shakespeare by randomly mashing keys on virtual typewriters.

A running total of how well they are doing shows that the re-creation is 99.990% complete.

The first single work to be completed was the poem A Lover’s Complaint.

Set up by US programmer Jesse Anderson the project co-ordinates the virtual monkeys sitting on Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing system via a home PC.

Mr Anderson said he started the project as a way to get to know the Hadoop programming tool better and to put Amazon’s web services to the test.

It is also a practical test of the thought experiment that wonders whether an infinite number of monkeys pounding on an infinite number of typewriters would be able to produce Shakespeare’s works by accident.

Mr Anderson’s virtual monkeys are small computer programs uploaded to Amazon servers. These coded apes regularly pump out random sequences of text.

Each sequence is nine characters long and each is checked to see if that string of characters appears anywhere in the works of Shakespeare. If not, it is discarded. If it does match then progress has been made towards re-creating the works of the Bard.

To get a sense of the scale of the project, there are about 5.5 trillion different combinations of any nine characters from the English alphabet.

Mr Anderson’s monkeys are generating random nine-character strings to try to produce all these strings and thereby find those that appear in Shakespeare’s works.

Mr Anderson kicked off the project on 21 August using Amazon’s cloud computers. Each day of virtual monkey keyboard mashing processing cost $19.20 (£12.40).”

Read more at BBC News (Thanks Tammy)

September 27, 2011 at 8:45 am
Darren says:

The nine-character snippets still need rearranging.

We need another infinite number of monkeys to compile the work of the original infinite number of monkeys into the works of Shakespeare.

September 27, 2011 at 11:38 am
martinb says:

I thought they worked out that the monkeys/typewriters would never work, because like humans they would act in predicable patterns when mashing the keyboard and never actually hit the complete sequence of keys required to make the of all the correct words. As the article says, they just pressed the same keys over and over.

September 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm
Shaun Banks says:

I think Mr Anderson is missing a trick here – Shouldn’t he check to see if the monkeys have written something better than Shakespeare?

I once spelt “Wombat” with Alpha-betty-Spaghetti which I thought was pretty impressive.

I have also on many occasions, while very drunk, made up lots of words while playing scrabble and put forth a very strong case for each of the words origin and meaning to my ,equally very drunk, opponent.

I have also just come back from Wales where the road signs are written by virtual monkeys and everyone town is a Countdown Conundrum. You just pray that you don’t get lost and have to ask someone directions. I went to lots of places I will never be able to pronounce or spell – I would recommend you all go but it is not possible for me to tell you how.

September 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Shaun Banks says:

I think the virtual monkeys were in charge of the spelling and gramma in my previous comment – Someone please hit me around my head with a large banana.

September 27, 2011 at 1:15 pm
Mark says:

“Each sequence is nine characters long…” oh brother. Silly and worthless.

September 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm
Leelie says:

Karl Pilkington will have none of it. xD

September 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm
cactus 777 says:

But I thought the point was it had to be all in one, not in little, separate 9-character chunks?…

September 28, 2011 at 1:32 am
Friv 2 says:

There are more technology very great now.

September 28, 2011 at 5:24 am
MattH says:

Yep, it’s an odd adaptation of the thought experiment really, which tends towards being irrelevant – originally, it is the likelihood of the infinite monkeys creating a complete work. By introducing the 9-character check and enabling a selection process, the odds of creating the complete work are drastically improved (meaning it is likely to happen in less time). Ignoring for a second that the monkeys might fall into predicatable patterns, and assuming complete randomness, the infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters would, with infinite time, produce a complete work of Shakespeare. No doubt about it. With this system, it will narrow in much more quickly. It’s a vaguely interesting experiment, but isn’t it ultimately kinda predictable?

September 28, 2011 at 8:36 am
Nicholas Finlay says:

Total non-story and waste of time.

September 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm
MrCheese says:

“It is also a practical test of the thought experiment that wonders whether an infinite number of monkeys pounding on an infinite number of typewriters would be able to produce Shakespeare’s works by accident.”

Wrong. It is an example of what infinity can produce. It hasn’t be proven wrong at all, it isn’t even up for discussion. It doesn’t matter how unlikely something is, it will happen given enough time. Of course, this discounts total impossibilities that exist, but there are a lot of things that people would deem impossible, that are not. For example, given enough tries, I could walk through a wall.

September 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm
Shaun Banks says:

Can we use these monkeys to write a new fiscal policy for David Cameron and his gimp Nick Clegg?

Anyone remember Monkey Magic

September 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm
Daneil says:

Ok this has nothing to do with the article but does anyone know what Derren Brown’s opinion is on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy?

September 29, 2011 at 9:24 am
Berber Anna says:

Daneil: He talks about hypnotherapy in his book Tricks of the Mind. He used to dabble in it himself as a student, and in the relevant chapter, he gives a self-hypnosis excercise for dealing with trauma-induced phobias. So I’d say he’s fairly positive about it.

September 29, 2011 at 9:53 am
Mark says:

The whole monkey thing, why not ”virtual parrots’ or virtual enzynmes with minute fingers or ‘virtual illetrate cavemen’?

September 29, 2011 at 10:03 am
Alto says:

@Mr cheese – You’re spot on. When i used to tell people about the million monkeys & typewriters representation of infinity, they would seem to think the monkey’s were ‘trying’ to type shakespeare. With this, people don’t understand that every single thing that is possible would be typed, no matter how unlikely. Every single representation of the keys of a keyboard will be typed, so they would also produce the bible, the works of jk rowling, and a haynes manual for a 1994 mondeo.

September 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm
Mark says:

His blog is documenting the process with videos and transcripts:

October 3, 2011 at 7:55 am
Boris says:

the whole idea is stupid to begin with. it doesn’t give us anything useful.

October 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm
alan says:

a practical test of the thought experiment
wouldn’t presume that the primates will not simply keep pressing the wrong keys over and over again. Or methodically work their way through every possible combination.


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