Monday, April 16, 2007

Monkeying with the Keyboard

Classic monkey business - Opinion: views on the news on Stuff.co.nz

WORLD OF SCIENCE - BOB BROCKIE
They say that given a hundred typewriters and enough time, a hundred monkeys will write Shakespeare's complete works.

To test this idea, a team at the University of Plymouth, England, got a (PndStlg)2000 grant from the British Arts Council, shut six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys with a computer keyboard in an enclosure at a Devon zoo for a month, and filmed what happened.

The alpha male bashed hell out of the computer with a stone and the other monkeys did little else but urinate and defecate on the keyboard. Nevertheless, the monkeys did produce the equivalent of five pages of type with a predilection for the letter S. One researcher said that proved the monkeys were not hitting the keyboard at random, so were part of the way towards literacy. Defending the expenditure, a lecturer said the filmed experiment made very stimulating and fascinating viewing and was cheaper to produce than reality TV, but there was no sign of Shakespeare.

These typing monkeys were the brainchild of French mathematician Emile Borel back in 1909. He introduced us to dactylographic monkeys in his book Statistical Mechanics and Irreversibility. Borel thought the monkeys would help readers envisage the unfeasible improbability of certain physical events, such as the random movement of all the air molecules to one end of a room. You can safely bet that the monkeys are unlikely to write Hamlet. You can similarly bet that air molecules will remain evenly spread through a room and not all move to one end by chance.

In 2003 a more realistic experiment was started called The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator. The programme simulates a vast number of monkeys typing at random to see how long it will take them to produce a Shakespeare play.

To date, the cyber monkeys have not done very well. It has taken them the equivalent of 2,737,850 million billion billion billion years to produce a phrase from Henry IV, Part 2: RUMOUR. Open your ears . .




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4 comments:

Steve Allan said...

"The alpha male bashed hell out of the computer with a stone and the other monkeys did little else but urinate and defecate on the keyboard...one researcher said that proved the monkeys ... were part of the way towards literacy. "

Pretty much describes every high school English class I ever took.

Bill Crider said...

Ah, those were the days!

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I doubt they could ever write the complete Shakespeare, but a few chapters of Dan Rhodes seems doable.

Bill Crider said...

They probably did it, and no one recognized it.