Twitter and Shakespeare's Globe Theater have partnered to prove the infinite monkey theorem, which states that monkeys infinitely typing at random could eventually re-create the complete works of William Shakespeare. The project uses a machine to capture the random keystrokes of one group of monkeys: Twitter users.
— CompleteTweets (@CompleteTweets) May 5, 2016
In the Globe Theater's lobby in London, a typewriter is hooked up via a mass of wires to a computer that combs Twitter looking for tweets that contain certain words. Starting with "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," the machine types out the entire play, word for word, as soon as a match is found in the Twitter-sphere. Launching the project yesterday, the machine has already gotten to Act 4 of the play, or around 1.22% of the complete works. It will ultimately work its way through 37 plays and 154 sonnets.
The biggest challenge of the project is when the text reaches one of the more bizarre Shakespearean words -- such as "habiliments" -- that it probably won't find organically posted on Twitter. At that point, an official Globe Complete Tweets account will call out asking for intervention. Twitter users can type up the challenging word with the hashtag #TheCompleteTweets.
The concept behind the theorem -- that given infinite time and and random sequencing, the emergence of something coherent is statistically highly probable -- has roots going all the way back to Aristotle and Cicero. The first instance of the pairing of a monkey and typing to describe the mathematical theorem was by Emile Borel and Arthur Eddington, who contributed to statistical mechanics in the early 20th century.
This isn't the first time that scientists have taken to proving the infinite monkey theorem in practice. In 2003, a group of students and lecturers at University of Plymouth attempted to prove the theory by placing a single computer inside a monkey enclosure at the nearby Paignton Zoo. After a month, the six primates produced about five pages of text, mostly of the repeated letter "s," as well as destroyed and defecated on the machine.
Paignton Zoo scientific officer Amy Plowman told BBC that that experiment had little value. "The work was interesting but had little scientific value, except to show that the 'infinite monkey' theory is flawed."
A software developer in Nevada had better luck in 2012. Using a random number generator that would generate 9-number sequences, Jesse Anderson was able to re-create Shakespeare's plays by pulling on 7.5 trillion character groups and cross-checking them against 5.5 trillion (5,429,503,678,976) possible combinations. He completed the works in just 1.5 months.
Since the Globe project relies on full words typed by Twitter users, the current project resembles more of a crowdsourced re-creation of Shakespeare's works rather than the random typings of a primate.