News Letters

Thursday 19 January 2017

Monkey maths

Published 30/09/2011 | 05:00

•I read with some bemusement the article on typing monkeys (Irish Independent, September 27). I found it imprecise and misleading. That monkeys typing at random will almost surely reproduce the works of Shakespeare is mathematically sound. It is not, as claimed in the article, a theory: it is a theorem. It is known to be correct, and any verification provided by experiment is needless.

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There is some confusion as regards the 'experiment', however: the devil is in the details. Professor Stewart presumably requires the monkeys to type the text of Shakespeare's works verbatim. Even disregarding spaces, capitals and punctuation, the odds against this happening are 26 raised to the power of 3.6 million to one. While this is an unimaginably large number, it is still finite, and one may expect such improbable events to occur (infinitely often!) on an infinite timescale.

The 'experiment' described by Ms Alexander is quite different. While rather imprecisely described, it seems that both text and monkey output are broken into nine-letter sequences. Each sequence produced by the monkeys is then fitted into the Shakespeare text if possible. Thus the odds of this happening are vastly greater than in Prof Stewart's set-up. Why not simply use sequences of length one? Then one could simply take the letters produced by the monkeys and fit them individually. Such an exercise, equally as pointless as that described in the article, could presumably be finished by lunchtime, saving hundreds of hours of computer time.

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