Why hasn't anyone run the monkeys-typing-Shakespeare program through a supercomputer?

I discovered this site today, and I saw that they don’t have enough funding to accept entries anymore! Darn!

It got me thinking: why haven’t scientists gotten together like these guys did and run a program like theirs, but w/ a supercomputer, to figure out the age old question (actually, not a question, but a scientific answer to a bewildering claim!): if you put enough monkeys in a room w/ typewriters and let them type long enough, they will eventually produce the entire works of Shakespeare.

The guys who did this site assumed that a.) the monkeys had infinite bananas, b.) they bred at an alarmingly exponential rate, somehow w/o leaving the typewriters, c.) they typed one letter every second, and I think d.) they never sleep? or stop for anything, even when they eat or poop

Also, apparently we are working w/ an incredible population of monkeys (more than this earth has!) in a room that would have to be serviced by an incredible number of humans (again, more than 6 billion as in our world) to feed them and clean up after them and reload they’re typewriters. But all of this is assumed: infinite workers to keep after the monkeys, infinite room, infinite number of monkeys you can use, infinite bananas, infinite time, infinite typewriters and resources for those typewriters, and the monkeys never stop to sleep, procreate (which they do at an incredible rate), or poop, and they always hit one key every second. That’s a lot of assumptions!

If I were a scientist, here’s what my version of the program would be, one that I would run through a supercomputer: I would allow the number of monkeys to increase as fast as the computer could possibly allow, and I would run the program as fast as possible until every correct sentence of Shakespeare’s entire work was written; that is, at some point, these monkeys had typed each of Shakespeare’s sentences correctly, and they all add up to his entire work. Then I’d know how many monkeys and how long it would take to do this!

But my question is: what did the original claim say? Was it just originated by mathematicians as a hilarious and fascinating sidenote, now used in conversations about bad writers (I bet a monkey typed this script!)? And what is the original claim: I mean, obviously it’s just a mathematical fact and not something that can be done in the scope of human history (the Earth will not be around long enough, we don’t have enough resources, etc.), but what were the terms of the original claim: was it claiming the monkeys would type each sentence correctly (as my program would test for) at different points along the way that add up to his works, or does it just claim they would type all the right words at some point, or that some monkey would type each play/work at some point? And speaking of that last one, I have to wonder- is it even possible to run something like this on a supercomputer? I have doubts that we can even compute somethings so unlikely as what I’ve proposed above, or something like what I just said about a monkey typing an entire play and eventually every play being typed.

BTW, a monkey wrote this whole post. These words are all accidentally put together. This is amazing. So was that. And that.

The original claim was that a single monkey at a typewriter would, at some nonspecified point in the future, have typed out every single book in the French National Library. Given infinite time, you don’t need any more monkeys than one.

Actually, it was an ape. Genus, Homo. :wink:

In his book Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer writes of a computer program written in 1988 which was able to reproduce the text of Hamlet in about 4 1/2 days. The program selectively retained correct letters and discarded and replaced incorrect ones to obtain the text. Per the same source, were it done completely randomly without retaining correct letters, it would take 26[sup]13[/sup] trials to hit the correct text, which is more seconds than have elapsed since the solar system was formed.

There was a scientist who did the whole “monkeys doing random typing” with computers and andom number generators decades ago. I’ll have to dig up the rticle, which I’ve got here somewhere.

One interesting twist he added was to use not random uses of each letter, but to weight each letter with its relative appearance in English. THen he moved onto the relative frequency of pairs of letters, then triplets and so on.

By the time you got to “fifth order” monkeys ina langag you weren’t familiar with (he did th same thing in Latin, German, French, mnd other langges), it was hard t tell real text from “monkey” text And for some reason third- and fourth-order monkeys gave a surprising number of obscene words.

He finally looked into whether or not you could generate Shakespeare, even using his relative frequency tables of fifth-order or higher correlations. He concluded that the answer was probably “no”, because the “random” numbers his computers were generating weren’t truly random – they were th results of those quasi-random-number-generating programs that computers use, and he concluded that there robably wasn’t enough “noise” to give you really random numbers.
Of course, with faster computers and better algorithms (not to mention tables of more believable random numbers) now available, maybe you could get a better shot at producing something beyond “To be, or not to be. That is the gesornenplatz…”

Did you just call me gay?
<punches Q.E.D.>

No, but you just confirmed your simian status.

It has recently been confirmed, however, that it took a single Ring-tailed Lemur only a day-and-a-half to produce the script for Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo.

Yeah right, there was no script for Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo!

If the “Shakespeare/monkeys” idea is to say that, in theory, anything which normally results from human agency can/will happen randomly, given enough time–well, so what? The fact that they’re monkeys is beside the point. You could say the same thing about any animal, providing you give them a way to type. Or something non-animal, for that matter.

To have a website that attempts to show this, or to sit around making conditions for the monkeys (or an algorithm) so that they are more likely to succeed in producing Shakespeare, is just a capricious way to kill time. And if you do insert recognition to the algorithm, what you’re doing, in a way, is injecting human language capabilities that monkeys don’t have, and which is contrary to the point of the original premise, isn’t it? Shakespeare didn’t produce his oeuvre because he liked to randomly write down letters, and then got really really lucky; he could do so, obviously, because of his human capacity for language.

Oh snap!

Here’s a serious academic take on this very subject.

The text of Hamlet, except that Horatio is named “Elvis.” :smiley:

Randomness and infinity are very tricky concepts, and computers can’t really do either.

This was written up as a case study in one of my university textbooks. That book is, I believe, currently at my office, so when I get into work tomorrow I’ll look it up and post a few more details, especially the funky code name he gave the program. :slight_smile:

I don’t remember it going into detail about any ‘randomness gap’, or mentioning the dirty words, though I think it’s not surprising. At a certain level, the system would be able to model the language well enough to come up with new combinations of pronounceable sounds that aren’t in the sample… a fair number of combinations of pronounceable sounds that aren’t actually used in ‘proper’ english are because they kinduv got reserved for profanity.

The big problem, as I see it, is that to get a really decent shot at something interesting, like a novel better than any produced before, or the transcript of rudolph’s hiring interview with santa claus (filed in Esperanto of course,) you need to be able to model something that simple letter sequence frequency charts won’t give you. For one thing, you would kind of need a sense of when a string of 20-30 characters are ‘meaningful’, and which combinations remain meaningful when added together and which ones cancel each other out.

receipt for my two cents please. :slight_smile:

Here’s the reference:

To my utter surprise, this article is cited as a reference for several (apparently related) U.S. Patents:


I heard of some zoo where they stuck a typewriter in a monkey cage to see what the inhabitants would make of it, and one of the keepers thought it would be really funny to sneak in one night and tap out

to be or not to be

but thought better of it. :smiley:

It should also be pointed out that the monkeys could just as easily type a sequence of random giberish for eternity, never producing a single work of fiction.

“It was the best of times, it was the BLURST OF TIMES!!!”

Not even Simpsons scripts?

I have wondered about this. There must be an infinite number of ways of getting (say) Hamlet wrong (like the aforementioned Elvis version) so even given infite time the monkey won’t necessarily ever give you any of Shakespeare, or e e cummings, or Matt Groening.

But I’m not sure about this, that’s the problem thinking about infinity*****. Could a math type show that given infinite time (or monkeys) that it is a certainty that all texts must (eventually) be generated?
***** for me anyway.

Cut that out, it’s wrong.

Stupid monkey!
I tried to ask a serious question about infinity there, any maths wizz got an answer?