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A Few Million Virtual Monkeys Randomly Recreate Shakespeare 312

Posted by samzenpus
from the simpsons-did-it dept.
First time accepted submitter eljefe6a writes "On September 23 at 2:30 PST the A Million Amazonian Monkeys project successfully recreated A Lover's Complaint. This is the first time a work of Shakespeare has actually been randomly reproduced. It is one small step for a monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere. From the article: 'For this project, I used Hadoop, Amazon EC2, and Ubuntu Linux. Since I don’t have real monkeys, I have to create fake Amazonian Map Monkeys. The Map Monkeys create random data in ASCII between a and z. It uses Sean Luke’s Mersenne Twister to make sure I have fast, random, well behaved monkeys. Once the monkey’s output is mapped, it is passed to the reducer which runs the characters through a Bloom Field membership test. If the monkey output passes the membership test, the Shakespearean works are checked using a string comparison. If that passes, a genius monkey has written 9 characters of Shakespeare. The source material is all of Shakespeare’s works as taken from Project Gutenberg.'"

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A Few Million Virtual Monkeys Randomly Recreate Shakespeare

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  • I wish I'd thought of it - and what a neat way to go about it.
    • by syousef (465911)

      I wish I'd thought of it - and what a neat way to go about it.

      So is it safe to say you're virtually impressed with the whole affair?

      • Definitely. From the "whole-problem optimisation" of selecting individual blocks of characters and composing the whole, to the implementation of a scalable distributed algorithm, to the various approaches to processing and validating the text, to the selection of the final comparison blocks. Though I don't know why I'm supposedly only "virtually" impressed.
    • by magarity (164372)

      Cool? Success is a forgone conclusion and the results were written over a hundred years ago. Cool would be to have this system write something new.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        It would be a foregone conclusion if monkeys were indeed randomly typing on a keyboard. But in practice, they tend to like certain keys leading to at best a pseudo random distribution of keystrokes. On top of that, many of the characters needed to produce the works require not just one keystroke, but a shift and a keystroke to work.

        Consequently, simulating this with virtual monkeys is almost sure to come up with a result that differs substantively from using actual monkeys to do the project.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Gadget_Guy (627405) *

        What a depressingly dull world you live in. By that thinking, all human endeavor is a waste of time because it is a forgone conclusion that we all die in the end.

        Sometimes it is the journey that is more important than the final destination. This was not about making another copy of a work of literature, but the creation of a simulation of virtual monkeys.

        • The creation of a simulation of virtual monkeys isn't all that impressive, though. It could basically be a student project.

          Your comparison is flawed. Plotting to destroy every human alive at noon GMT June 3rd, 2007 could be considered a waste of time since they all die in the end, because them all dying in the end is already a foregone conclusion. Making a great work of art is not a waste of time even if the appreciators all end up dead and the work forgotten forever, because the point wasn't for the app

      • by RobDude (1123541) on Monday September 26, 2011 @10:22AM (#37515272) Homepage

        I don't even understand it.....

        He randomly generates 9 characters until he gets the 9 characters he wants. Then he repeats until he has the Shakespeare book he wanted? That's not how 'random' works. Why 9 characters? Why not 1?

        I will have my computer randomly guess letters until an A comes up. Then until a B comes up. And then, at the end I'll have the ABCs! RANDOMLY!

        Am I being retarded? Did I miss why this is cool?

    • I did think of it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chibi Merrow (226057) <{ten.ytinifniyeknom} {ta} {worremrm}> on Sunday September 25, 2011 @11:51PM (#37511984) Homepage Journal

      I did think of it. I even registered a domain (see my URL and e-mail address). Planned on making a screensaver that would randomly generate stuff, and convince people to run it, ala SETI@Home. Then college happened, then graduate school happened, then marriage happened, then baby happened... And then (once again), I read on SlashDot that someone else has done one of my ideas again and made the front page.

      But then again, literally as I'm reading this, my daughter is singing the Blue's Clues theme song next to me while my wife and I get ready to queue up for our nightly game of League of Legends... Sitting in the downstairs den/office that's full of years of gamer stuff that all represents the happy memories of those several years of college. That guy can have my monkeys. Good for him. I found something better. :)

  • ...and wouldn't it be easier to let them evolve and then one of them can BE Shakespeare 2.0?

    • by martin-boundary (547041) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @11:49PM (#37511968)
      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.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 26, 2011 @01:32AM (#37512434)

        Exactly. Breaking down the problem of "randomly finding thousands of characters in the right order" to "randomly finding 9 characters in the right order" is bullshit, because this requires information about the order of all the 9-character-blobs you find.

        In other news: I compressed a Gigabyte down to 2 bits. You just have to know the order of the bits!

        Stupid article. Stupid submitter. Stupid waste of energy. That's the 21st century for you. Idiocracy at its best.

      • by cgenman (325138) on Monday September 26, 2011 @01:36AM (#37512446) Homepage

        You could prove that for the length of a work of Shakespeare (N), the amount of "monkeys" required to solve the problem in the same amount of time is 26^(N-9). Or, as it relates to the proverb, the solution to the equation has the time required to create a work of Shakespeare as infinite and the number of monkeys required to solve it in that time as infinite.

        Of course, that solution didn't require programming the monkeys. But it is extrapolatable out to an entire work.

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

        Of course it is not. It is impossible to simulate an infinite amount of monkeys working for an infinite amount of time. Some concession has to be made to the fact that we have a finite amount of computing power.

        • This sort of concession misses the point. The "infinite monkey theorem" is about how wildly unlikely things are not the same as impossible things. Therefore you cannot discount the possibility that a thing happened or will happen just because it is very improbable to happen, if it was or is going to be subjected to an arbitrarily high number of "chances" to happen.

          This experiment breaks it down to brute-forcing a poor password, billions of times, instead of brute forcing a friggin' insane password, which

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)
          But that defeats the point. Why 9-character segments? Why not 1-character segments? Then, when each letter has been generated once by your random number generator, you say 'done' and move on. The point of the gedankenexperiment is to show that a true random number generator will eventually produce any sequence, irrespective of whether you ascribe some meaning to that phrase or not. For example, it is just as probable that a monkey would type 'the original submitter is an idiot who misses the point of p
  • I'm virtually impressed, virtually speechless even! The man is a virtual genius.

  • There was a comic strip/sketch where scientists have a roomful of monkeys and typewriters, and their latest "Work" is clutched in a researcher's hand. As they go through, it's page after page of perfect Shakespeare, and they're going through with great excitement until they get to the very last page, they look in disappointment as it degenerates into "Ook eek ook". Anyone remember it?
  • I always thought the idea was that the characters would be produced sequentially throughout the entire play, not just every word produced independently. Much less credit.
  • HRmm...... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by malakai (136531) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @11:36PM (#37511872) Journal

    If i'm understanding this, this isn't as cool as it seems. It seems like his 'monkeys' are just randomly creating words, and he matches those words against any word used in Shakespeare. If he gets a match, he marks that one as done. So, as some point one monkey made the word "be" and all of a sudden green lights all over the place.

    I think the original saying was how random and unique it would be for a solid set of strings to randomly create a whole piece of work _in one go_ . Not a word here, a word there, OMG 100% of Shakespeare words have been randomly created.

    • Re:HRmm...... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dan East (318230) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @11:45PM (#37511940) Homepage Journal

      Exactly. So if it's going to be done in this way, then why not break it down into INDIVIDUAL characters. Have a monkey generate a single letter, and see if that happens to match something one of Shakespeare's works. I bet that algorithm would be even faster.

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        Yep. This whole 'experiment' reminds me of the Monty Python Great Actor skit:

        Sir Edwin: Ah, well, I don't want you to get the impression it's just a question of the number of words... um... I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important. Old Peter Hall used to say to me, 'They're all there Eddie, now we've got to get them in the right order.'

    • by meburke (736645)

      Yeah, you got it right the first time. Despite the popularity of the idea that a million monkeys could randomly create the works of Shakespeare, It would take trillions of years for the monkeys to create the first few paragraphs. This is an obvious time-waster.

      • Trillions of years is generous. A million monkeys each making a unique 100 bit binary string every second would still take around 40 quadrillion years [wolframalpha.com]. This *vastly* underestimates the time of an actual paragraph, let alone multiple paragraphs, and it's still 40,000 times larger than the trillion years estimate.
        • What if you allow misspellings and word substitutions? I've been able to read ebooks just fine with all the steganography they've been putting in (either that, or pretty much every ebook I've ever read has had terrible editing...). Surely that narrows the problem space a little bit.

      • by lakeland (218447)

        Ok, but how about this...

        The next letter in the target manuscript is 'F'... count the number of keystrokes until a monkey randomly types F. The next letter is 'l', type the number of keystrokes until an l is hit... and at the end multiply the numbers together...

        That sounds fairly reasonable to me.

      • Re:HRmm...... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cgenman (325138) on Monday September 26, 2011 @01:50AM (#37512508) Homepage

        It's not that a million monkeys could randomly create the works of Shakespeare. It is that an infinite number of monkeys could recreate all of the work in the known world, including Shakespeare. The thing about infinity, is that it is really, really big. If the amount of resources thrown at a problem is truly infinite, all possible results just happen, no matter how improbable.

        The point of the saying is how mind-meldingly large infinite is, and how bad our minds are at comprehending the ramifications. This is one.

      • I'm probably the only person on /.who will point out that none of Shakespeare's works were written in paragraphs.

    • You nailed it. The problem becomes more difficult as the number of characters and words increases, for the simple reason that you have to go further without a mistake having been made. If something like a Bogosort [wikipedia.org] takes O(n*n!), I shudder to think how long recreating the works of Shakespeare would take, but that's the very point of the expression: to express the unlikelihood of a random set of occurrences leading to an outcome.

      • by Chuckstar (799005)

        I always thought the expression was saying the exact opposite. I've always heard it used in a similar manner as "even a broken clock is right twice a day". That not every genius-looking outcome required genius-level input. In other words, rather than being about unlikelihood, it is about inevitableness.

        • I've heard it both ways, now that you mention it. "Put some monkeys in front of enough typewriters..." vs. "That's like putting monkeys in front of typewriters and expecting..."

    • Seconded. I'm not impressed. He's proven something we've known all along. A huge, wasted, effort.
    • by Schlaegel (28073)

      The slashdot title should have been, "Man completely misunderstands the Monkey Shakespeare Theorem."

      I noticed that the linked website has comments off, so no one can help the author understand what the theorem really means.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem#Direct_proof [wikipedia.org]


      Probabilities
      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 10^183,800.

    • by Aighearach (97333)

      Yeah but if you have a million programmers typing randomly into their keyboards, eventually one might write a program to simulate teh million monkeys experiment correctly.

      So this is progress.

    • by AtrN (87501)
      "Getting them in the right order is just as important." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnxir7wHIuY [youtube.com]
    • Yeah, it was definitely pretty weak. I was expecting to read about all the other works of literature of equal or lesser length to the shakespeare one that the monkeys also produced. Including the screen play for the simpsons episode about this very subject (except with dickens).

  • So the virtual monkeys are recreating a subset of the work of Shakespeare not an entire work. And the Hadoop instance is splicing them together?

    • by MikeUW (999162)

      That's what it sounds like. Basically, it's a rigged system to get around the problem that it would take virtually an infinite amount of time to accomplish this if we were looking for a fully-complete work from one random string of characters.

  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @11:41PM (#37511904)

    "It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times! Stupid monkeys!" {strikes them with script...}

  • srand (time(NULL));
    while (1)
        if (rand()==1234)
            puts("OMGOOSES!");

    Kinda a waste of CPU cycles...

    • by yanyan (302849)

      Yeah, it isn't completely random random, because of all the filtering done to ensure the randomly-generated words are part of the original text. Sure the words are generated randomly, but reducing them and checking for membership, and then checking to see if they're in the source kinda ruins the whole point.

  • What a colossal waste of energy and computing resources.
    • I absolutely agree. This has to be one of the stupidest things I have read in a while. And that includes recaps of reality television.
  • by nzac (1822298) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @11:44PM (#37511936)

    and that he missed the point of the expression?

    Of course it will work the Mersenne twister will eventually cover the entire 9 letter space and then he can search though for the parts that match (yes he is doing it concurrently but that’s just an inefficient way of doing it). If he had the RAM and time he could eventually recreate every book possible.

    The Wikipedia page explains it better that infinite random sting is bound to contain something that is perceived as useful. Of course the literal take [wikipedia.org] on on the expression is the most funny.

    • by dudpixel (1429789)

      Surely this is obvious.

      1 million monkeys on typewriters coming up with 9 CHARACTERS of shakespeare each is just a tad more likely than any monkey (from a team of 1 million) coming up with the ENTIRE WORK of shakespeare.

      I'm not really sure what this guy set out to prove.

      • Ya, and they certainly got a lot of help to recreate Shakespeare... like human help.

        These monkeys were no ordinary monkeys either. First and foremost, they BEHAVE.

        It's like he didn't even understand the expression as GP said, yet went out to demonstrate his misunderstanding literally. ... and that is what makes this story interesting :)

    • by Hermanas (1665329)

      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.

      Sounds to me like the monkeys produced five pages of Snakespear.

    • He got the point. That he limited his monkeys to 9 character blocks instead of trying to generate entire works makes that pretty clear. I still think it's stupid, though.
    • by md65536 (670240)

      Yes. It's stupid and he should be embarrassed.

      All he's done is get a bunch of "virtual monkeys" to recreate many 9-character works of Shakespeare.
      Putting them in order wasn't done randomly... and it's the *order* of the words (or characters or bits or whatever arbitrary length of data you decide to use) that makes it a Shakespearian work!

      I'll bet he chose "9" because it was the biggest he could make it without it "taking too long."

    • by MrMickS (568778)

      and that he missed the point of the expression?

      Of course it will work the Mersenne twister will eventually cover the entire 9 letter space and then he can search though for the parts that match (yes he is doing it concurrently but that’s just an inefficient way of doing it). If he had the RAM and time he could eventually recreate every book possible.

      The Wikipedia page explains it better that infinite random sting is bound to contain something that is perceived as useful. Of course the literal take [wikipedia.org] on on the expression is the most funny.

      Yes its missing the point. Its a neat trick and should pad his resume but its missing the point of the infinite number of monkeys. The worst thing about it is that its potentially harmful. You can hear the class discussion on infinity now, where when discussing the problem someone who's seen the story on the news/read it on the net pipes up that some guy has proven it using the internet, thus sidetracking the discussion away from the concept of infinity.

  • I think that the goal is that one of the many monkeys types an entire work of Shakespeare, not that many monkeys each type a very small segment of Shakespeare mixed in with gibberish, and then the many very small segments of Shakespeare are cut from the surrounding gibberish and combined by a person of intelligence into a work of Shakespeare.

  • Certainly this story must interest some people. To you, I ask this question: what makes this story interesting? To me it's a waste of energy that doesn't produce anything unexpected or particularly interesting. Compared to this, the Minecraft Enterprise-D [youtube.com] is useful--it's at least interesting.

    (Note: I am a mathematician, so maybe I'm missing some of the novelty associated with random number generation and exponential growth.)

    • by blackicye (760472)

      Certainly this story must interest some people. To you, I ask this question: what makes this story interesting? To me it's a waste of energy that doesn't produce anything unexpected or particularly interesting. Compared to this, the Minecraft Enterprise-D [youtube.com] is useful--it's at least interesting.

      (Note: I am a mathematician, so maybe I'm missing some of the novelty associated with random number generation and exponential growth.)

      I reckon most of us are of this persuasion...colour me unimpressed as well.

  • by gfody (514448)
    can they provide the RNG and seed value that produces the poem? thought not
    • by md65536 (670240)

      I have a RNG that uses a large table of random characters, and returns them sequentially. Seed value 0. It can recreate the poem.

      To populate the table I used a bunch of old text from some dead guy.

  • All donate an infinite amount of cash, you can build an infinite computing platform to run the infinite monkey experiment!

  • He kept a million virtual monkeys gainfully employed for X amount of time. The job field is hard out there for virtual monkeys, too, you know. Bunch of anti-virtual monkey people, you are! Hmmmph!

  • I did something relatively like this (albeit smaller scale) when I was a 8th grader in the early 80's, learning BASIC.

    One of the first programs I actually wrote myself instead of laboriously copying out of a book or a magazine was "Monkeys" - this was a program that randomly generated letters and added them to the right end of a string, checked the string against a target value, and if it didn't fit, deleted the leftmost character to the string.

    If a$="tobeornottobethatisthequestion" then b$="The monkeys hav

  • 9 character chunks? Should I spend a 1/2 hour writing a monkey class that emits 1 character chunks and simply monitor it for "Much Ado About Nothing"? I bet it could reproduce the work in less than a second with a single monkey.

    9 characters of any particular Shakespearean work isn't slashworthy...

    Now if he had a monkey emit the entire work that would be interesting in an examination of how long it took and how it occurred.

  • "Million monkeys generating shakespeare" was an argument against evolution, that randomness can't create complexity.

    The rebuttal is that people making that first argument don't understand the replication part of natural selection. Evolution doesn't say atoms randomly come together to form each person. First they formed useful proteins, and those genes got replicated. Repeat and add one level of complexity each time, keep repeating 4 billion years... and you finally make complex organisms.

    Back to the ana

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