September 27, 2011
‘Virtual Monkeys’ Near Completion Of Random Shakespeare Recreation
Millions of ℠virtual monkeys´ have nearly completed typing up Shakespeare´s entire body of work by hitting random keys on simulated typewriters.
Jesse Anderson, the programmer behind the initiative, said an episode of The Simpsons spoofing the famous problem had inspired him to embark on the project.
“Today (2011-09-23) at 2:30 PST the monkeys successfully randomly recreated A Lover´s Complaint and The Tempest (2011-09-26),” Anderson wrote in a blog posting.
“This is the first time a work of Shakespeare has actually been randomly reproduced. Furthermore, this is the largest work ever randomly produced,” he wrote.
The monkeys have completed 99.99 percent of the Bard's complete works, and will continue typing away until every work is randomly created, he said.
“Until then, you can continue to view the monkeys´ progress on that page,” he said, adding that he was making the raw data available to anyone who wants it.
Anderson used millions of small computer programs, or virtual monkeys, using Amazon's SC2 cloud computing system, and programmed them to select random sequences of nine characters.
If the nine-letter sequence appears anywhere in Shakespeare's work, it is matched against the relevant passage in a copy of the Bard´s complete works, and is checked off the list.
The monkeys began typing on August 21, and have already completed more than five trillion of the 5.5 trillion possible nine-letter combinations.
“It is one small step for a monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere,” Anderson wrote.
However, experts say the project is not a perfect reproduction of the infinite monkey theorem because it saves correct sections of text while discarding future wrong guesses.
In fact, Warwick University Mathematics professor Dr. Ian Steward said that typing up the complete works in the correct order, without mistakes, would take much longer than the age of the universe.
"Along the way there would be untold numbers of attempts with one character wrong; even more with two wrong, and so on,” he told BBC News.
"Almost all other books, being shorter, would appear (countless times) before Shakespeare did."
Anderson acknowledged the limitations.
"I understand the definition of infinite and infinite monkey theorem and I realize that this project does not have infinite resources,” he wrote on his blog.
"No monkeys were harmed during the making of this code. This project is my attempt to find a creative way to attain an answer without infinite resources. It is a fun side project."