How Long Does It Take For Monkeys To Reproduce Shakespeare’s Works?

A programmers tests out the Infinite Monkey Theorem to see if virtual monkeys can reproduce The Bard's complete works.

Yi Chen
Yi Chen on September 27, 2011. @yiiee

Jesse Anderson, an American programmer, has put the Infinite Monkey Theorem to test by using ‘virtual monkeys.’ In just a little over a month, the virtual monkeys have typed the whole Lover’s Complaint poem and are 99.99 percent through completing Shakespeare’s complete works.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem is a mathematical metaphor stating that if an infinite number of monkeys are randomly typing on a typewriter for an infinite number of time, it will almost surely type enough random phrases to produce the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Anderson set up millions of small computer programs to mimic the monkeys and programmed them to type out random sequences of nine characters. The nine-letter sequence is then matched to one of Shakespeare’s writings and ticked off the list. The virtual monkeys started typing on 21 August using Amazon’s SC2 cloud computing system. Currently, they have typed up more than 5 trillion of the 5.5 trillion possible nine-letter combinations. However, they have only completed one work, which is Shakespeare’s Lover’s Complaint.

Anderson stated on his blog that:

This is the largest work ever randomly reproduced. It is one small step for a monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere. I understand the definition of infinite and Infinite Monkey Theorem and I realise that this project does not have infinite resources. No monkeys were harmed during the making of this code. The project is my attempt to find a creative way to attain an answer without infinite resources.

Jesse Anderson