At Last, Monkeys Are Recreating Shakespeare

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REUTERS/Susumu Toshiyuki

A programmer has finally found a way to answer the age-old question: would an infinite number of monkeys pounding on an infinite number of typewriters be able to produce Shakespeare’s works? The answer: yes, as long as they’re virtual monkeys.

Jesse Anderson is a computer programmer who has created a system of computer programs — i.e. virtual monkeys — that continually create random sequences of text. The sequences are all nine characters long and once they’re created they’re checked against Shakespeare’s canon. If the text hasn’t appeared somewhere in Shakespeare’s  work, it’s discarded. If it has appeared, it’s added to a collection that is quickly becoming a recreation of Shakespeare’s entire body of work.

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OK, but isn’t using a computer program, the so-called virtual monkeys, to recreate Shakespeare kind of cheating? Not really, according to the BBC. Even though the random generation is being performed by a machine, it’s still an extraordinary task. The BBC reports:

“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.”

Mathematicians have said that Anderson’s project, which he began on August 21, wouldn’t have a chance of being completed within his lifetime, if he hadn’t put effective constraints on the results, such as keeping the correct sequences. As it is, however, calculations are showing that the recreation is “99.990% complete.”

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