The infinite monkey theorem goes something like this: a monkey (or “a roomful of monkeys”) constantly typing random keys on a computer keyboard would, after an infinite amount of time, almost certainly produce the complete works of William Shakespeare. Precise experimental evidence of this idea is difficult to get, because monkeys die and no one has infinite time. Hence the bright idea of testing the theorem using computers, which can be instructed to crank out random character groups (i.e. words) fast as light.
Jesse Anderson, who’s been doing experiments of this sort using virtual monkeys, has progress to report:
Today (2011-09-23) at 2:30 PST the monkeys successfully randomly recreated A Lover’s Complaint. This is the first time a work of Shakespeare has actually been randomly reproduced. Furthermore, this is the largest work ever randomly reproduced. It is one small step for a monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere.
The monkeys will continue typing away until every work of Shakespeare is randomly created. Until then, you can continue to view the monkeys’ progress on that page. I am making the raw data available to anyone who wants it. Please use the Contact page to ask for the URL. If you have a Hadoop cluster that I could run the monkeys project on, please contact me as well.
This project originally started on August 21, 2011. Over the course of the project, over 5 trillion character groups have been randomly generated and checked out of the 5.5 trillion possible combinations.
Anderson has not asked what, to me at least, is the more worthwhile question: what original masterpieces exist among the 5 trillion character groups spewed forth by the virtual monkeys. The computer will not be able to tell us, I suspect. A roomful of English majors would require infinite time to tell us that, but their shorter lifespans would be more profitably spent writing their own character groups from scratch.