Off topic: Give six monkeys a computer, and what do you get?
Thread poster: Jack Doughty
| | Jack Doughty
Local time: 08:50
Russian to English
Thanks to Geneviève von Lewetzow for this story, which she pasted into the German forum from \"Die Welt\" website. I found it in English on the \"Guardian\" website.
Give six monkeys a computer, and what do you get? Certainly not the Bard!
David Adam, science correspondent
Friday May 9, 2003
It is a favourite question of pub philosophers everywhere. If you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, would they eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare?
The answer to this, mathematicians assure us, is yes. But now someone has attempted to put the theory to the test. Admittedly the British academics involved in this unusual project did not have an infinite number of typewriters, nor monkeys, nor time, but they did have six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys, and one computer, and four weeks for them to get creative.
The results of this trial at Paignton zoo in Devon were more Mothercare than Macbeth. The macaques - Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan - produced just five pages of text between them, primarily filled with the letter S.
There were greater signs of creativity towards the end, with the letters A, J, L and M making fleeting appearances, but they wrote nothing even close to a word of human language.
\"It was a hopeless failure in terms of science but that\'s not really the point,\" said Geoff Cox ,of Plymouth University\'s MediaLab, who designed the test. So what were the academics trying to achieve? \"It wasn\'t actually an experiment as such, it was more like a little performance,\" said Mr Cox.
The project - which was paid for with £2,000 of Arts Council money - was intended to emphasise differences between animals and machines, he went on. \"The monkeys aren\'t reducible to a random process. They get bored and they shit on the keyboard rather than type.\" The computer was protected with a perspex box, with holes for the monkeys to poke fingers through to hit the keys.
Vicky Melfi, a biologist at Paignton zoo, said that the macaques were ideal animals to use.
\"They are very intentional, deliberate and very dexterous, so they do want to interact with stuff you give them,\" she said. \"They would sit on the computer and some of the younger ones would press the keys.\" Ultimately the monkeys may have fallen victim to the distractions which plague many budding novelists.
\"There\'s loads of stuff for them to do in there, they\'ve got climbing frames, ropes and toys,\" Ms Melfi said. The researchers did consider rewarding the monkeys with food when they pressed a key, but worried they would become fixated and so do little else.
The macaques should not feel too bad about their lack of productivity, however. Assuming each monkey typed a steady 120 characters a minute, mathematicians have calculated it would take 10 813 (10 followed by 813 zeros) monkeys about five years to knock out a decent version of Shakespeare\'s Sonnet 3, which begins: \"Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest, Now is the time that face should form another.\" And that\'s if they had a computer each.
The Paignton six\'s literary efforts have now been printed in a limited edition book entitled Notes towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Just £25.
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| | Uldis Liepkalns
Local time: 10:50
English to Latvian
| And just a quote :) || May 13, 2003 |
\"We\'ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million type-writers will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.\"
[Robert Wilensky (1997), in the \"Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations\", published September 2002.]
| Reminds me of a story in the collection of Clifton Fadiman || May 13, 2003 |
Actually the original quotation does not stop with the entire works of Shakespeare. The reference is to the reproduction of the entire British Museum library. Anyhow that\'s just by the way. The story I want to refer to appears in \"Fantasia Mathematica\", a collection of stories dealing with mathematics and edited by Clifton Fadiman. I forget the title of the story I am referring to. But the story goes as follows. Six monkeys are placed before six typewriters and they start typing. The experiment is initiated by a professor of English and is watched keenly by a professor of mathematics. To the chagrin of the latter the monkeys start writing books one by one with not one piece of meaningless jumble of characters. At first the maths lecturer tries to reason that though the probability of such a thing happening is almost zero, it is not actually zero. After sometime he loses his nerve and shoots down all the monkeys as they have put his theory of probability to ridicule. The last monkey to die just manages to type the title \"Uncle Tom\'s Cabin\" before succumbing to its injuries.
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| Thanks Enrique (two2tango) || May 15, 2003 |
It is indeed a small world. I promptly went to the site suggested by you and downloaded the story to my hard disk. I read this story among others in Fadiman\'s book way back in 1968. (To the despair of my friends I would have rather said recently in 196.
Thanks for locating my old friend for me.
On 2003-05-13 19:56, two2tango wrote:
On 2003-05-13 16:55, Raghavan wrote:
...The story I want to refer to appears in \"Fantasia Mathematica\", a collection of stories dealing with mathematics and edited by Clifton Fadiman. I forget the title of the story I am referring to. But the story goes as follows. Six monkeys are placed before six typewriters and they start typing. ...
It is a small world. I read this story ages ago in Argentina!
You are talking about \"INFLEXIBLE LOGIC\" by Russell Maloney, copywright in 1940.
It deserves reading, and fortunately is available (typed by a human, I guess) at
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Give six monkeys a computer, and what do you get?
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