The Infinite Monkey Theorem states that given an infinite amount of time, a monkey hitting random keys on a computer keyboard will almost surely type any given text, like the entire “Lord of the Rings” book series or any written work for that matter. In this context, “almost surely” translates to a probability of 1, or the event can happen at least once.
Generalizing the theorem’s application, therefore, we can say that any sequence of events with a non-zero probability of happening will almost certainly eventually occur again given enough time.
Other interesting terms…
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When applied, the Infinite Monkey Theorem doesn’t really require a monkey. In fact, the monkey is only a metaphor for any system or device that produces text made up of characters and symbols in a random fashion.
Also, time isn’t the only element of the theorem that can be made infinite to make it true. You can also use as many “monkeys” as possible to reach the desired results.
What Are Some Concrete Applications of the Infinite Monkey Theorem?
Over time, we have seen various outputs of the Infinite Monkey Theorem. Some of the most recent examples are:
- Jesse Anderson using Amazon’s cloud computing resources to visualize the reproduction of William Shakespeare’s “A Lover’s Complaint,” which you can see from his website. You can also use the scroll-down menu to choose other works produced in the same manner. His experiment with a million monkeys (aka “devices”) completed Shakespeare’s work in one-and-a-half months.
- Lab[au] ’s installation “Signal to Noise,” which cycled through random letter collections to form meaningful words. You can watch how red letters eventually form full-blown words in this video:
Both of the examples above support the idea behind the adage “There’s order in chaos.” No matter how random things seem to be, sooner or later, a pattern or discernible text will emerge.
Is the Infinite Monkey Theorem Foolproof?
Mathematicians have proven that it is. So you may be wondering why you’ve never won the lottery despite trying for 20 years. The most straightforward answer would be that 20 years may not be enough. Maybe you need another 50 years. Or you haven’t exhausted all possible number combinations.
Want to see a more concrete proof? The makers of this website (Russell and Amber) programmed a computer to play two piano keys randomly to see how many tries it would take to start Beethoven’s “5th.”
Their experiment showed the computer played the notes in the correct order after 12 tries.
Given all the evidence the world has seen, the Infinite Monkey Theorem suggests that any problem is solvable as long as you have enough time and resources.
Have Actual Monkeys Been Used to Test the Theorem?
The quick answer is yes.
Back in 2002, University of Plymouth MediaLab Arts lecturers and students used a £2,000 grant from the Arts Council to study the literary output of real monkeys. They left a computer keyboard with six monkeys in Paignton Zoo in Devon, England, for a month and used a radio link to broadcast the results on a website.
During that time, the monkeys produced five pages of text largely made up of the letter “S.” Interestingly, the lead male monkey began striking the keyboard with a stone. The other monkeys then started soiling the keyboard.
The university’s Institute of Digital Arts and Technology (i-DAT) director, Mike Phillips, said that the project was primarily performance art they learned “an awful lot” from. But he concluded that monkeys “are not random generators. They’re more complex than that. … They were quite interested in the screen, and they saw that when they typed a letter, something happened. There was a level of intention there.”
What Has the Infinite Monkey Theorem Produced Aside from Random Texts?
It has, albeit indirectly. Artificial intelligence (AI) experts have created machines that produce written work given a random set of words using the concept behind the theorem. Instead of simply generating random characters in natural language generation, they restrict the generator to a meaningful vocabulary and conservatively follow grammar rules. The computer then generates a random document that can fool even some humans, as shown by experiments such as SCIgen, snarXiv, and the Postmodernism Generator.
Another step forward in applying the Infinite Monkey Theorem is OpenAI’s Generative Pretrained Transformer 2 (GPT-2) AI system. Published in 2019, GPT-2 can produce an entirely plausible news article given two sentences a human wrote.
- The Infinite Monkey Theorem states that given an infinite amount of time and resources, a monkey hitting random keys on a computer keyboard will almost surely type any given text.
- While the Infinite Monkey Theorem works, obtaining enough time and resources to produce the desired results can be difficult.
- “Signal to Noise” is an output of the Infinite Monkey Theorem.