Skip to content
Surprising Science

A Million Monkeys Typing Shakespeare

A programmer from Nevada is testing the old probability axiom that a million monkeys on a million typewriters would eventually compose the complete works of William Shakespeare. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Computer programmer from Nevada Jesse Anderson has written a simulation of one million monkeys typing away on one million typewriters to see if they will scribe a Shakespeare play. “Recapitulating Shakespeare at random can be done in a number of ways. The simplest, and most difficult manner, involves adding a single random character at a time, just as a monkey on a typewriter would. If the monkey ever hits the wrong key, the whole work gets thrown out, even if the previous thousand were correct.” Anderson, however, has simplified the monkey’s work. 

Smarter faster: the Big Think newsletter
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday

What’s the Big Idea?

Beyond an experiment in probability, Anderson’s program approximates the evolutionary process, according to the outspoken English biologist Richard Dawkins. “The random typing of characters is considered to be analogous to the results of random mutation. But Dawkins adds a new step, analogous to natural selection: if any of the letters are right, they’re retained as ‘fit.'” Given that Shakespeare’s string of letters “Methinks it is like a weasel” is one combination of a possible 1.2 x 1040 combinations, we do not yet have the computing power to reproduce the Bard’s works.


Up Next