Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
It's funny.  Laugh. Books Idle

A Few Million Monkeys Finish Recreating Shakespeare's Works 186

eljefe6a writes "The Million Monkeys project has finished every work of Shakespeare. The last work was The Taming of the Shrew (insert shrewish joke here), which finished on October 6. I give my thoughts on going viral. If this article about going viral goes viral, it will create an infinite loop that will bring about the destruction of the world. The project source is released, too."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A Few Million Monkeys Finish Recreating Shakespeare's Works

Comments Filter:
  • by unreadepitaph ( 1537383 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @06:57PM (#37657150)
    But could they direct better versions of planet of the Apes?
    • If given enough time.
    • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:11PM (#37657282)

      No, these couldn't.

      By any normal persons definition, these monkeys also never actually produced any of Shakespeare's works either. They basically produced the right number of As, Bs, Cs, ect ... and then the guy running the project rearranged them into the right order and says the monkeys wrote shakespeare!

      I guess if you count the guy who is reassembling the letters as a monkey, then its probably true that 1 million virtual monkeys and 1 human monkey could do it, though I'm guessing he probably fucked up the reassembly as well considering everything else about this 'project'.

      • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:51AM (#37659690) Homepage

        It's the same guy that pretended to have a work of shakespear a few weeks ago, simply by selectively combining overlapping strings of 9 random characters together?

        What I find most amazing about this project is that his random character generator is so incredibly slow.

      • The "monkeys" were used to generate nine-character-groups, not individual characters, but yes, they didn't really recreate the works of Shakespeare on their own. They only generated nine-character-groups which could be pasted together into the works of Shakespeare by someone who already knew the end result.

        • Why's he wasting time generating long random numbers if he's non-randomly checking and combining them?

          Sounds like an awfully inefficient algorithm. If the monkeys produced 1 binary bit instead of 9 bytes at a time they could recreate the works of Shakespeare in approximately 2 tries.

    • Yes. 10 monkeys, 4 days.

  • But could a million monkeys ever get a first post?

  • It's a cheat. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @06:59PM (#37657170)
    This doesn't come even remotely close to the real situation postulated in the Million Monkeys concept.

    It proves nothing, and isn't even very good as a publicity stunt.
    • Re:It's a cheat. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:04PM (#37657212) Journal

      Yes, we hashed through all this last time. The "monkeys" generate 9 character blocks of random letters, then that chunk of text is fitted wherever it can be into the actual works of Shakespeare. And as I said last time around, it would be vastly more efficient, and just as pointless, to generate random SINGLE characters and fit those into works of Shakespeare instead.

      • Re:It's a cheat. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by robbyjo ( 315601 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:13PM (#37657298) Homepage

        Then, it's not really monkeys. It's more of monkeys with an oracle. That oracle thing made a whole world of difference.

        • Re:It's a cheat. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by icebike ( 68054 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @09:40PM (#37658248)

          Then, it's not really monkeys. It's more of monkeys with an oracle. That oracle thing made a whole world of difference.

          The guy who set this up has almost as much intelligence as a monkey but is a whole lot more intellectually dishonest much more of a publicity whore.

          • The guy who set this up has almost as much intelligence as a monkey but is a whole lot more intellectually dishonest much more of a publicity whore.

            *sigh* I miss the old days on Slashdot, when trolls were eloquent.

      • Yes, I recall. But since the story reared its ugly head again, I felt an urge to denounce it... again.
      • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @09:37PM (#37658228)

        Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Dorchester, where a very good crowd has turned out to watch local monkeys write the complete works of Thomas Hardy on this very pleasant July morning. And here they come, here come the line of monkeys walking towards the typewriters. They look confident, relaxed, very much the modern novel writing monkeys in form as they mug for the very good-natured bank holiday crowd. And the crowd goes quiet now as the monkeys settle themselves at the desks, scratching themselves, pondering the unfamiliar pieces of technology. A monkey reaches over and pushes a key! It's the first letter, no wait, it's just a tab stop, a meaningless button as there are no points given for formatting. Oh dear what a disappointing start! But another monkey is off again and there he goes, the first letter of a Thomas Hardy novel at 10:35 this very lovely morning, it's an "H", Dennis.

        Dennis: Well, this is true to form, no surprises there. The letter "H" appears in every Thomas Hardy novel so far, comprising one third of the definite article. The letter "H" is not the most popular letter of the alphabet but it does have a solid showing. We've matched up this letter and we appear to have completed 5.93% of the complete works of Thomas Hardy finished so far. Oh dear, the monkey appears to have flung poo at his typewriter obscuring the letter "H"! The only letter written so far and now we're starting over.

      • Actually, although the guy doesn't mention it, this looks a lot like an expanded version of Richard Dawkins' "WEASEL" experiment. []

        As such, it does have some educational purpose: by its success (which would be impossible with an actual million monkeys experiment), it shows that evolution by natural selection (that's what the guy is doing) is very different from, and much more powerful than, simple random search. Simply because it's selective (duh), and more importantly, cumulative: you don't start from scratc

        • Still, I have the same issue with that experiment (which isn't particularly surprising since it is Dawkins), in that you are starting with the end result and contriving a way to generate it. In that way, it isn't much different from an Intelligent Design proponent's argument. In this thought experiment, Dawkins is the intelligent designer, and it's a shame he doesn't see the irony in that. A better thought experiment would be generating five words, checking each for fitness against the list of ALL dictiona
      • The much larger fail here is on slashdot's part. Why do they keep posting stories like this? Either they're incompetent or they're manipulative and know this will insight drama in the comments. Either is lousy journalism, blogmanship.
    • Yeah, I got about two paragraphs in and, expecting to read a description of the actual project, all I found was a bunch of 'look at me!!!'. Then, I realized that *was* the actual project. Distributed Narcissism. Yay.
    • Re:It's a cheat. (Score:5, Informative)

      by pnot ( 96038 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @09:58PM (#37658342)

      It proves nothing, and isn't even very good as a publicity stunt.

      On the contrary. It proves that with the right link-bait buzzwords and sufficiently lazy editors, even the most pointless project can make the Slashdot front page -- twice.

      Come back Bitcoin stories, all is forgiven...

      • It could also be taken as the monkeys are smarter than people, as a few million monkeys have produced what a few billion homo sapiens (I use the term loosely) haven't been able to do on the intertubes...

    • Kind of sad actually. I was going to suggest using this technique to come up with a paper on how to travel faster than light. I guess the trick would have been to figure out which part of all the typing was the correct method. :) I guess it is easier already having the finished work to compare to.
    • It was rubbish when Slashdot headlined it last week. It's still rubbish now. It's too bad the editors don't read any of our comments, otherwise they would have known not to re-post it again. I'm getting kind of sick of all of this click-baiting, I'm out of here.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is not newsworthy and it's not what you might think. It used small chunks of text and only kept ones that made sense. A better description of why this is complete bullshit can be found here. []
    • That's a good summary of it. I always imagined it was an infinite number of monkeys out of which a smaller number typed in its entirety one of Shakespeare's plays and that a sufficient number of them did so independently so as to finish the complete works. Probably with a few duplicates and an unimaginably large number of near misses.

      Breaking it up into small chunks that aren't even the size of an act really degrades the whole point of the activity in the first place. I doubt that the computing power will e

  • The Million Monkeys project went viral, but not in the cool, apocalyptic way. The Million Monkeys project went viral starting on October 25, 2011 and went into full swing on October 26, 2011

    It's amazing what a few million time-traveling monkeys can do.

    • The time-traveling nature of this article honestly hindered my ability to read it. Boo bad editing.
  • Misleading name (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:07PM (#37657248)

    The name of this project is completely wrong compared to what anyone who knows of the Million monkeys can recreate Shakespeares works' concept.

    If a random sequence output from one of the 'virtual monkeys' matched some sequence of characters in a work, they counted it as if the monkey typed part of that work.

    At no point did any one of their virtual monkeys ever turn out even a single coherent sentence, let alone one that could be found in a work of Shakespeare.

    This guy seems to think that if you get enough output from /dev/urandom that you can account for all the characters in a book, then you've recreated the book. Doesn't matter than /dev/urandom didn't actually spell out the words in the book.

    • Re:Misleading name (Score:4, Insightful)

      by owlstead ( 636356 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:38PM (#37657510)



      There, I created each and every Shakespeare work by typing every letter. I must be a genius. Oh, and even better, look at the dot at the end of this sentence -> [.]
      When multiplied and put in the right place in a 2D grid, it represents all the works of Shakespeare all by itself.

      He did know that it was not correct, he just implemented an approximation and abused the title for his hobby project. No harm done. He did even explain that he was just testing some techniques and warns people not to get angry, which I will implement by drinking a Lagavulin single malt on his health.

    • Re:Misleading name (Score:5, Informative)

      by FrootLoops ( 1817694 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @08:02PM (#37657652)
      This was discussed to death in the original version [] of this story. Here's a copy of one of several +5 comments describing the strategy:

      This experiment, while fun, isn't exactly the infinite monkey experiment.

      What's happening here (if I understand the writeup) is that the monkeys are typing random letter combinations, until they hit a small phrase that happens to be in shakespeare. Then that phrase is marked as done.

      Let n be the size in characters of the target phrase. If n=1, then the complete works of shakespeare are obtained as soon as each of the letters of the alphabet have been typed at least once. You could do this in a few seconds on your computer keyboard. If n=2, then the complete works are obtained as soon as all the possible pairs of letters have been typed. The experiment in TFA has n=9 I think.

      As n grows larger, the time until completion grows exponentially. Once his expeiment is done, the case n=10 should take roughly 26 times as long (ignoring punctuation capitals and diacritical marks). Alternatively, it would require a cloud roughly 26 times bigger to do it in the same amount of time.

      (source; taken from martin-boundary [])

      The author knows it's not the regular interpretation. Here's his response to one of my comments:

      I found that mathematicians and statisticians had the most adverse reaction to my project. If you have half an infinite resource to give me I would gladly use it and run the project again. I even wrote a brief section on the post saying: I realize there are different interpretations to this saying/theorem and I have done 2 different ones already. I understand the definition of infinite and infinite monkey theorem and I realize that this project does not have infinite resources. This project was funded and written by myself and was not supported by any grant money or federal money. No monkeys were harmed during the making of this code. This project is my attempt to find a creative way to attain an answer without infinite resources. It is a fun side project.

      (source; taken from eljefe6a [])

      And here's a repost of some of my own calculations concerning the improbability of the real version:

      If he had successfully randomly achieved a shakespeare play, [...] It would be like a flying saucer landing and informing someone that they won the galactic lottery.

      It's far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, (...), far more improbable than that. The text of Hamlet (see Project Gutenberg []) is around 180 KB long, so around 1.44 million bits. Being generous and lopping off half (since most of the characters aren't present), and then rounding down, let's say it's 500,000 bits. There are 2^500,000 possibilities; this is a number with around 150,000 decimal digits. It's comparable to the odds of winning a 1-in-a-million lottery 25 thousand times in a row.

      Winning a galactic lottery, in comparison, would be extremely, almost incomparably, frequent. There are something like 300 billion stars in the Milky Way. Suppose each star had 30 planets with 100 billion "people", being very generous. That's only about one million billion billion inhabitants. Winning such a lottery would be the same as winning 4 1-in-a-million lotteries in a row. 4 versus 25,000, and that 25,000 is an exponent--these two can't just be divided to property compare them.

      It's closer to winning 6 thousand galactic lotteries in a row.

      (source; taken from me [])

      • Re:Misleading name (Score:5, Informative)

        by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @08:34PM (#37657896) Journal

        the point is more that he apparently doesn't realize how completely pointless this is, whatever his resources. the coupon collector's problem has basically been completely solved (in the sense we have an asymptotic rate, and shakespeare's work are long enough that this limit applies). there's no point whatsoever in simulating it.

        it would be exactly like taking physics I and then trying to create an ideal point mass or a completely frictionless surface because they talked about that in a few of the lectures... 1) it's impossible; 2) you've missed the point entirely.

        • actually, i take it back partially. this is somewhat interesting, but not because of the infinite monkey "theorem"; that's just silly.

          what's interesting is that there are different ways to get 9-character covers of the same text. for example, i could pull "tobeornot" and then "tobethati". alternatively i could pull "rnottobet" and then "hatistheq". either one will cover the substring "rnottobethati" and remove it from the pool.

          i'm pretty sure there is a way to find the approximate number of draws by an entr

        • by epine ( 68316 )

          he apparently doesn't realize how completely pointless this is

          No, he has the psychological structure where he enjoys pretending he doesn't get it, then he slurps up the ensuing attention because it gives him a troll woody.

          I'd like to take all his 9-tuples and pave the Bulwer-Lytton or the collected utterances of Wesley Crusher or the cc: transcripts from Howard Stern. It would cover them all.

        • A hobby is a hobby. Who am I to judge how worthwhile it is? I agree, the results are wildly unsurprising, but so long as the guy enjoyed doing it, so what? I suppose he's made quite a few nerds indignant, though I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or not. A few people have probably found it interesting, and maybe a few were lead to read up on the infinite monkey theorem.
          • that's fine; i'm sure it was also a nice exercise in learning hadoop. it's the gloryhounding that bugs those of us who've done much more and much harder work without recognition (which is most of slashdot).

      • thanks for the conceptualizations around large numbers.
        for another example, one way to visualize 10^300 is that if you take a sphere the size of the universe (sphere of radius 14 billion light years) and then fill it with grains of sand, and then replace each of those grains of sand with an entire universe filled with grains of sand, and then replace each of those grains of sand with yet another universe of sand, you have about 10^300. by my estimate []. this came up because i was pissed off at string theorist

    • The name of this project is completely wrong compared to what anyone who knows of the Million monkeys can recreate Shakespeares works' concept.

      Yeah, I don't get the point of this exercise at all. Writing a trivial program to count the distinct strings of length "n" from the Shakespeare text file, and applying a bit of really elementary calculus of probabilities will get you the same results in about a hour altogether, and should be doable by a medium bright high schooler.

      Has basic mathematics literacy gone so low? What's next, first page articles on a big program that computes the square root of two via brute force by generating random nu

      • it doesn't have to generate every distinct string.

        • it doesn't have to generate every distinct string.

          Sorry, I don't understand you - I may have been unclear in my post; let me explain: it doesn't have to generate anything. All I need to know is the number of characters he takes into consideration (say 80, for a-z, A-Z, 0-9 and maybe some extra colons or stuff) and the number of strings he wants to generate (for example the 100000 (or however many there are) different substrings of length 9 in the Shakespeare oeuvre). I can then compute the probability of a random generated substring falling into this parti

          • i was being unclear. i'm more a mathematician than a programmer (though really i'm neither). by generate, i meant that there is a probabilistic model generating these strings. i wasn't talking about actually investing a few bob on amazon ec2 instances to gloryhound a trivial pursuit.

            nonetheless, i illustrate my point here. fix the alphabet as letters a-z without capitalization or punctuation or spacing (as the schmuck in the story actually did). now suppose shakespeare's idiot brother produced a single work

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:11PM (#37657284) Homepage

    Would have gone faster had he settled for one character (and faster yet with just one bit).

    • Yup, with one bit it would take just 5 tries to have a success rate of over 90%. You may not need a fast computer to accomplish it. Heck, the piece of shit calculator in my brain could easily do the job. Unfortunately generating usable random numbers is extremely unreliable as well :)

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:17PM (#37657342)

    ... this will satisfy the need for .NET programmers [].

  • by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:18PM (#37657346)
    I'm sure there is something I'm missing from this, so what is the point in spending time doing something like this? Programming techniques? Or simply for insight in to random character generation?

    To me it seems fairly arbitrary and pointless.
    • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @07:35PM (#37657476) Journal

      I'm sure there is something I'm missing from this, so what is the point in spending time doing something like this? Programming techniques? Or simply for insight in to random character generation? To me it seems fairly arbitrary and pointless.

      Slashdot whoring is the only point as far as I can tell. The "Monkeys" are virtual processes. The methodology is flawed and arbitrary as everyone keeps pointing out. Yet it keeps appearing on slashdot as if this were news for nerds. Heck it's not news for a first year comp sci student.

      • by BillX ( 307153 )

        That, and near the beginning of TFA the guy is actively soliciting someone to contact him if they want to "do a story". I dare not count the occurrences of the word "viral".

        • by syousef ( 465911 )

          That, and near the beginning of TFA the guy is actively soliciting someone to contact him if they want to "do a story". I dare not count the occurrences of the word "viral".

          Monkeys....Viral....Anyone else thinking of the movie Outbreak? When does Rene Russo show up?

    • To me it seems fairly arbitrary and pointless.

      I suspect it's run by the shipping interests who are eager to use the Northwest Passage to get goods from Europe to China. Or perhaps a money laundering operation using Amazon somehow. What else makes any sense?

  • Million /. monkeys can repeat the same stories over and over, that's what happens when the keys are on a touchscreen instead of having the proper clickety click keyboard.

  • My favorite version of this meme is Borges' story "The Library of Babel" [].

  • The foundation of the story was posted on the linked blog on September 23rd [], and most blogs and news outlets covered it then (e.g. ars technica []).

    Good job being timely, slashdot. At one point I could come here for breaking information. Those days are long gone.

    • The original version of this story appeared on September 26th []. The Ars Technica piece you linked was published on the same day, the 26th of September, actually later (~3am on /. vs. 12pm on Ars). In fact my link appears in the "Related Links" below the summary on this story, though I have to admit I typically never look there. It would have been nice if the summary had linked to the previous story to prevent all these stupid reposts.
      • by raaum ( 152451 )

        Point taken. Yet, if Slashdot is going to retain any relevance whatsoever, some mechanism to (mostly) eliminate weeks-late reposts needs to be developed.

        • by raaum ( 152451 )

          Note that Ars isn't reposting this on a bi-weekly basis... Not that they are the be-all and end-all of internet news, but they're beating the pants off slashdot in the last few years.

          • /. hasn't been the fastest news source around since blogs took off. The point of /. isn't getting news first, it's getting news that matters to Nerds without having to scrounge the entire net to get it. If you scrounge the entire net every day, then there's no point at all in reading /.

            • by raaum ( 152451 )

              I go to 5 or so sites on a daily basis. Slashdot is in that list as a reflex. I'm not scrounging the entire net, yet /. is still reposting stuff from weeks past.

              I like slashdot; I've been visiting for 13 years, but it's not often "news for nerds", and similarly rarely "stuff that matters." By definition, news is timely. And the editorial (community) selections lead to "stuff that matters" only the first time around - not on the 4th repost.

              • Simple answer, if you don't like the output of the editorial staff, take it off your list (as I have done a couple of tech blogs that went down the tubes for whatever reason.) Yes, the editors of /. have a reposting habit, it's only a problem if you're too OCD to skip a story you think you've seen before.

  • The early 80's wants its program back.

    The only thing this has demonstrated is computing power has increased. Whoop de doo.

  • Sensationalist crap. Not interesting in the least. A very misleading title to boot. Make it go away.

  • by FrootLoops ( 1817694 ) on Sunday October 09, 2011 @08:18PM (#37657774)
    ...that monkeys are an extremely poor imitation of a random text generator. In Wikipedia's words:

    In 2003, scientists at Paignton Zoo and the University of Plymouth, in Devon in England reported that they had left a computer keyboard in the enclosure of six Sulawesi Crested Macaques for a month; not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages consisting largely of the letter S, they started by attacking the keyboard with a stone, and continued by urinating and defecating on it.

    (source [])

    Here's their output [] and a little more info/some pictures.

    • by 3dr ( 169908 )

      So, the monkeys used pretty much the same tactic I used for term papers in English lit.

    • Thus, needing an infinite number of monkeys... actually, I think long before you achieve a dozen planets full of monkeys, you'll probably hit a genetic aberration or two that will break any statistical models by variations in their behavior - some might actually type words, if they are exposed to them in print or spoken form. The monkeys that finally produce a work of Shakespeare are apt to be different from your average monkey.

      • Strictly speaking, even an infinite number of monkeys wouldn't work if they produced particularly non-random text. The output I linked wasn't even close to making words, let alone sentences, scenes, acts, and plays. If they always typed a bunch of s's on each page, for instance, they would never type the complete works. Genetic aberrations--methinks I see a monkey Shakespeare, ho! [It's in iambic pentameter. I'm a nerd.]
    • Obviously, those monkeys hadn't received adequate training. I blame their employer!

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Sunday October 09, 2011 @09:23PM (#37658154) Journal

    Goddamn, this story again? It was bogus the first time it came around.

    Man, the weekend staff around here needs a little supervision.

    • by pcjunky ( 517872 )

      Not possible. Randomly recreating just 100 characters of any work via random generation would take more time than from the big bang. Just the letters in the English language would be 26^100. A number larger than googol (10^100). The total number of elementary particles in the known universe is about 10 to the power of 80. If this space was packed solid with neutrons, so there was no empty space anywhere, there would be about 10 to the power of 128 particles in it.

  • 1) This Million Monkeys Project is dumb because it cheats to increases the probability so much that it is basically unrelated to the original million monkeys scenario.

    2) From Wikipedia on the real million monkeys scenario:
    "Even if the observable universe were filled with monkeys the size of atoms typing from now until the heat death of the universe, their total probability to produce a single instance of Hamlet would still be many orders of magnitude less than one in 10 to the 183,800 power. As Kittel an
  • Slashdot got scooped by Language Log days ago...
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Sunday October 09, 2011 @10:21PM (#37658422)
    Now I challenge the monkeys to create a grand unified theory. You have 2 weeks. Go! What do you mean it only works backwards?
  • This reminds me of and their pointless brute forcing of encryted string that they already know only contains A-Z ascii characters that form a message. I wonder how much CO2 emissions are pumped out of pointless activities like this.
  • Is there maybe one minor difference in that Shakespeare, perhaps, didn't have the result already available before setting off, so that he could monitor his progress?

    Why is this crap even discussed here? Next thing you know we'll get some marketing goon reselling us Google search through a flimsy add on and we'll be jeering for 2 consecutive weeks.
  • "The Million Monkeys project has finished every work of Shakespeare. "

    Uh, whatever the folks behind this might have planned for the next project, I suggest we ask them to not turn these monkeys loose on typing up all the names of God. OK?

  • It seems almost every commenter here has missed the point. TFA is not about infinite monkeys. It is about "going viral".

    On the programming side, this guy has managed to randomly recreate 9 consecutive characters of Shakespeare's texts (several times over). Not a great achivement. - Not even a mediocre one. Still he has managed to get a lot of publicity, including being featured on /. twice.

    I am sure many of the readers here have projects of their own that are far more interesting than his, but which are get

  • When I read the headline I thought the guy was trying through genetic algorithms or similar to demonstrate that something as complex as the works of Shakespeare could be "bred" through randomness (as Dawkins suggested in one of his books). Turns out the guy was just generating random numbers and every time a random number matched a part of the works he crossed it off the list and went onto the next part. I'm struggling to understand why. To me it ranks right up there with the bible code on the pointlessness

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.