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article imageDon't Monkey With Shakespeare

By Bob Norman     Apr 17, 2007 in Technology
Would 100 Monkeys with typewriters eventually produce the works of William Shakespeare? Well sorry to disappoint the monkey fans, but new studies says probably not. Yes, they're actually testing this stuff.
French mathematician Emile Borel conceived of the typing monkey idea back in 1909. His goal was to somehow help readers to imagine the improbability of certain physical events. His theory stated that if 100 monkeys typed at random on 100 typewriters for a long enough period of time, they would eventually produce the entire works of Shakespeare.
This monkey business was the inspiration for a previous article I wrote about the hidden identities of Digital Journal staff, turning the staff into a mythical team of monkeys (DJ Staff can take it, and it was all in good fun). But new studies investigating the theory say it may be even more improbable than Borel ever imagined.
Recently, the University of Plymouth in England had a team test the theory with grant money from the British Arts Council. Six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys at the Devon zoo were given a computer keyboard and filmed over a month long period. Besides bashing the keyboard and using it as a deposit for various bodily wastes, the monkeys didn't produce much. Although they produced the equivalent of five pages of text the closest they came to Shakespeare was a predilection for the letter S.
A far more realistic experiment was started in 2003. Dubbed the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator, the computer program simulates a vast number of monkeys banging away at keyboards to see how long it will take them to produce Shakespeare's plays.
So far it's been a slow process for the cyber-monkeys. It's taken them the equivalent of 2,737,850 million billion billion billion years just to come up with a three word phrase from Henry IV, "Open your ears . . "
One mathematician calculates that if the universe contains 17 billion galaxies, each containing 17 billion stars, each containing 17 billion inhabitable planets, and each planet supported 17 billion monkeys all typing a random line of type per second for a billion years, their chances of producing To be or not to be, that is the question is almost but not completely zilch.
Probabilists still figure that given enough time it's inevitable that the monkeys will produce Shakespeare's works. The only question might be if there would be anyone or anything left to see them at that point.
(You can pull the staff off of Shakespeare Chris, you'll have to be happy with them scolding the users! :)
More about Monkey, Shakespeare, Probability
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