Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays? Imaginary Monkeys.

One year ago today, BBC.com posted a story headlined, Virtual Monkeys Write Shakespeare. Among the unlikely highlights reported as news:

How to Write GudMr. Anderson’s virtual monkeys are small computer programs uploaded to Amazon servers. These coded apes regularly pump out random sequences of text. (Monkeys, apes, they’re virtually the same, right?)

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.

To make things easier on his monkeys (and his PC), Mr. Anderson is not concerned with punctuation.

The first single work to be completed was the poem “A Lover’s Complaint.” Without the quotation marks, apostrophe or capitals, I suppose.

In the five weeks between August 21, 2011, and the publication of this news story, Mr. Anderson’s imaginary monkeys had completed 99.990% of the unpunctuated re-creation.

Calculations by a UK mathematician suggest it would take far longer than the age of the Universe for monkeys to completely randomly produce a flawless copy of the 3,695,990 or so characters in the works: “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.”

In 2003, Paignton Zoo carried out a practical test by putting a keyboard connected to a PC into the cage of six real monkeys. After a month the monkeys had produced five pages of the letter “S” and had broken the keyboard.

Anyone care to guess what passage was the .010% the monkeys were still struggling with a year ago? Or whether they finally finished it?

2 thoughts on “Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays? Imaginary Monkeys.

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