Dawkins’ weasels v/s Anderson’s monkeys to Shakespeare’s work

John Timmer

Richard Dawkins' weasels beat random monkeys to Shakespeare's work

There’s a classic example of probability that focuses on the question of whether a million monkeys, given a million typewriters, could ever recreate a work of Shakespeare by chance. A programmer from Nevada is now giving virtual monkeys a chance, having them pop out random strings and matching the results against the complete works of Shakespeare. But the details of the work suggest it’s not really a demonstration of brute force producing a low-probability result; instead, the system appears to mimic one used by Richard Dawkins to demonstrate the power of evolutionary selection.

Jesse Anderson, who’s running the virtual monkeys on a home computer, describes his system using text and video on his site. One thing that’s very clear is that he made the challenge a bit simpler than it might have been. Each virtual monkey on his machine only spits out a string of standard ASCII letters—no punctuation, no capitals or digits, not whitespaces. This cuts the potential space he’s searching down considerably.

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