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Could a monkey really write the complete works of Shakespeare?

By T.K. Randall
February 14, 2022 · Comment icon 15 comments

Probably not. Image Credit: Pixabay / Gellinger
It is said that, given enough time, a monkey with a typewriter could reproduce everything ever written.
Known as the infinite monkey theorem, this age-old mathematical quandary has been debated for years - could a monkey with a typewriter, if given an infinite amount of time, really come up with the complete works of Shakespeare ?

The idea behind this is fairly simple - the monkey is little more than a metaphor for any mechanism capable of producing random strings of letters - it doesn't have to be a literal monkey.

Of course the likelihood of a monkey (or a random-string generator) actually achieving such a feat is unimaginably small, however it is not entirely zero, despite being incredibly unlikely to happen.

Over the years, researchers have attempted to simulate the concept using computers, however in the best case scenario, it took the system 42,162,500,000 billion billion (simulated) years to produce even a couple of words from one of Shakespeare's plays.
In 2001 researchers at the University of Plymouth took things one step further by conducting the experiment using actual monkeys from England's Paignton Zoo.

A keyboard was placed inside the enclosure and left there for one month.

The results at the end of the experiment were dismal to say the least, with the monkeys having successfully produced a grand total of one vowel and long strings of the letter 's'.

Several of the monkeys even opted to throw their own excrement at it.

Suffice to say, no Shakespeare was forthcoming.

Source: IFL Science | Comments (15)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by Gumball 2 years ago
It was the best of times it was the blurst of times.  I don't care, I was the first to it.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Occupational Hubris 2 years ago
Maybe not....
Comment icon #8 Posted by Tatetopa 2 years ago
"Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war," comes from the original Klingon  I believe.   Don't know how Shakespeare was able to get hold of it in our pre-space travel era.
Comment icon #9 Posted by South Alabam 2 years ago
I always thought that was a bunch of crap, and so did the monkeys.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Myles 2 years ago
Comment icon #11 Posted by Essan 2 years ago
Most monkeys only live for 20 or 30 years.   So no.   They would die long before they got the first word right.
Comment icon #12 Posted by AnthonyS 2 years ago
Comment icon #13 Posted by chiron613 1 year ago
Yes.  Given enough time, such a monkey (or computer, or whatever) would produce all the works of Shakespeare, the Bible, every book ever written... but it would produce incorrect versions of these works, as well as an enormous amount of pure gibberish.  You'd have telephone books, with correct numbers, but also trillions of telephone books with wrong numbers; dictionaries with wrong definitions, and some with correct definitions. This is just simple math, permutations of the letters and words... Finding any sort of reasonable text among all the output would be like looking for a grain of san... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by chiron613 1 year ago
I've got a set of math books that are 50-60 years old, and among the many chapters is one discussing this topic.
Comment icon #15 Posted by chiron613 1 year ago
The Infinite Monkey Theorem isn't among those that are disproved, however.

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