If you give monkeys time and typewriters, will they eventually produce Shakespeare?

Some researchers actually tried to test it.

No, it didn’t work out very well…

Via The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human:

In 2003, researchers from Plymouth University in England arranged a pilot test of the so-called infinite monkey theory—“ pilot” because we still don’t have the troops of deathless supermonkeys or the infinite time horizon required for a decisive test. But these researchers did have an old computer, and they did have six Sulawesi crested macaques. They put the machine in the monkeys’ cage and closed the door. The monkeys stared at the computer. They crowded it, murmuring. They caressed it with their palms. They tried to kill it with rocks. They squatted over the keyboard, tensed, and voided their waste. They picked up the keyboard to see if it tasted good. It didn’t, so they hammered it on the ground and screamed. They began poking keys, slowly at first, then faster. The researchers sat back in their chairs and waited.

A whole week went by, and then another, and still the lazy monkeys had not written Hamlet, not even the first scene. But their collaboration had yielded some five pages of text. So the proud researchers folded the pages in a handsome leather binding and posted a copyrighted facsimile of a book called Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare on the Internet. I quote a representative passage:  

Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssnaaaaaaaaa Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssssssssfssssfhgggggggsss Assfssssssgggggggaaavmlvvssajjjlssssssssssssssssa  

The experiment’s most notable discovery was that Sulawesi crested macaques greatly prefer the letter s to all other letters in the alphabet, though the full implications of this discovery are not yet known. The zoologist Amy Plowman, the study’s lead investigator, concluded soberly, “The work was interesting, but had little scientific value, except to show that ‘the infinite monkey theory’ is flawed.” In short, it seems that the great dream of every statistician— of one day reading a copy of Hamlet handed over by an immortal supermonkey— is just a fantasy.

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