Programmer Sets Out to Prove the “Million Monkey Theorem”

Jesse Anderson has harnessed the power of cloud computing in his goal of proving an old aphorism. There’s an old saying that dates from I don’t know when. It  has a number of variations, but generally reads something like this: “If a million monkeys sat at a million keyboards they would eventually type out the entire work of William Shakespeare”. Sometimes it’s an infinite number of monkeys, but the number isn’t so important here.

No one can afford a million monkeys, so Jesse went for the next best thing. He programmed his computer to simulate the million virtual monkeys randomly generating gibberish.The program has been running for a month and the monkey’s have completed one of Shakespeare’s poems.

But by some accounts he’s not actually working on the million monkey theorem. I, for one, always thought that the idea was that one of the monkey’s would type out a work or the completed works. jesse’s project is actually much simpler.

He’s not having the virtual monkey’s type out long strigns of gibberish. Instead he has each one type out a random string of 9 characters.  If that string matches some part of one of Shakespeare’s works then the string is added to a list of fragments. As the fragments accumulate, more and more parts of a play or poem is listed and eventually it is finished.

While that is an interesting experiment, it’s not quite the same thing as the original theorem.  Randomly typing out a complete play as a single string of characters is much more difficult than the 9 character strings.


imag by Jungle_Boy

Publish date: September 26, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT