The sheer improbability of producing work of Shakespeare by chance

Can monkeys randomly produce Shakespeare’s works?

“Not a chance,” said Dr Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick.

His calculations suggest it would take far, far longer than the age of the Universe for monkeys to completely randomly produce a flawless copy of the 3,695,990 or so characters in the works.

“Along the way there would be untold numbers of attempts with one character wrong; even more with two wrong, and so on.” he said. “Almost all other books, being shorter, would appear (countless times) before Shakespeare did.”

Earlier experiments have shown how difficult the task is. Wikipedia mentions a 2003 project that used computer programs to simulate a lot of monkeys randomly typing.

After the equivalent of billions and billions and billions of monkey years the simulated apes had only produced part of a line from Henry IV, Part 2.

Also in 2003, Paignton Zoo carried out a practical test by putting a keyboard connected to a PC into the cage of six crested macaques. After a month the monkeys had produced five pages of the letter “S” and had broken the keyboard.


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