Thursday, November 18, 2004

Pounding away on a keyboard

Mr. Burns, giving a tour of his mansion: “This is a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters. Soon, they'll have written the greatest novel known to mankind. (reads one of the typewriters) "It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times"?! you stupid monkey! (monkey screeches) Oh, shut up.”

From a review of the book “Chance - A Guide to Gambling, Love, the Stock Market, & Just About Everything Else”: “Some more tidbits: Yes, according to probability theory, a group of monkeys pounding on typewriters really will, given enough time, produce "Hamlet." Aczel gives you the odds. The trick is that in this case, "long enough" is sometime off beyond the death of the universe.”


Jared said...

No, according to probability a group of monkeys won't produce "Hamlet". The odds are far lower than even the most liberal universal probability bound at which the event becomes "impossible" (statistically). In fact consider a simpler goal: to produce the single sentence "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." without capitalization. An octillion monkeys (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 ) typing at one octillion characters per second for 20 septillion years has only a 10% likelihood of generating that sentence (assuming they can't use the number keys or more than four punctuation keys).

If you really only had 1000 monkeys it would take more than 100 times the life of the universe (assuming 13 billion years) to produce the phrase "Viking Pundit" (with capitalization) at 1 key per monkey per second (about average for monkeys) with a 63% confidence of success.

Anonymous said...

If these estimates are based on the presumption of purely random typing, they are far too generous. Experiments to date show that monkeys on typewriters tend to hit a single key repeatedly.


Anonymous said...

... when they're not defecating on the keyboard.