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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Monkeys
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0886  Friday, 9 May 2003

[1]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 May 2003 03:23:52 -0700
        Subj:   Monkeys surrender, can't do Hamlet

[2]     From:   David Nicol <
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        Date:   Friday, 09 May 2003 14:39:43 +0000
        Subj:   Infinite Monkeys Experiment


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Friday, 9 May 2003 03:23:52 -0700
Subject:        Monkeys surrender, can't do Hamlet

May 09, 2003

Much ado, but monkeys fail Shakespeare test
By Sam Lister
Times Online, May 9, 2003

http://search.thetimes.co.uk/cgi-bin/ezk2srch?-aSTART#

AN EXPERIMENT to test the theory that a group of monkeys armed with
typewriters will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare has been
abandoned after the primates failed to write even one recognisable word.

Lecturers and students from Plymouth University, who received ?2,000 of
Arts Council sponsorship for the project, installed a computer in a zoo
enclosure to monitor the literary output of six monkeys.

But after a month the Sulawesi crested macaques succeeded only in
partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and filling
five pages of text, primarily with the letter S.

The students, from the MediaLab Arts course, concluded that their
subjects at Paignton Zoo, in Devon, would never achieve literary
greatness.  Geoff Cox, the lecturer who devised the experiment, said:

"The aim of the project was to show that animals cannot be reduced to
the level of random processes, or, indeed, to the level of a computer.
The joke, if there is one, is not on the monkeys, but on the theory
itself."

The conceit that monkeys might type Shakespeare, often cited in
arguments about evolution, is thought to have been coined by Thomas
Huxley, the foremost scientific supporter of Charles Darwin's theories.

The participants at Paignton Zoo have done little to help Huxley's
cause, however. Having first tried to destroy the computer by chewing
the cover, the macaques eventually produced a little text. Their output
improved slightly towards the end, with the letters A, J, L and M also
being employed, but the monkeys failed to come up with anything remotely
resembling a word.

"We weren't particularly surprised that the monkeys didn't write a great
deal," Dr Vicky Melfi, a research associate, said. "They are extremely
intelligent, but have evolved to a completely different niche where they
don't need Shakespeare.

"To be honest, they weren't very interested in the computer at all. They
spent most of the time sitting on it, or jumping up and down.

"It was also used quite a lot as a toilet, which was fairly disgusting
when we dismantled the equipment."

The results of the experiment, part of a larger project developed by
i-DAT, the Institute of Digital Arts and Technology at the university,
are available in a limited edition book entitled Notes Towards The
Complete Works of Shakespeare.

The five-page edition duly credits its authors: Elmo, Gum, Heather,
Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Nicol <
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Date:           Friday, 09 May 2003 14:39:43 +0000
Subject:        Infinite Monkeys Experiment

From the BBC's online news service:

NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE MONKEYS' PLAY

A bizarre experiment by a group of students has found monkeys cannot
write Shakespeare.

Lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth wanted to test
the claim that an infinite number of monkeys given typewriters would
create the works of The Bard.

A single computer was placed in a monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo to
monitor the literary output of six primates.

But after a month, the Sulawesi crested macaques had only succeeded in
partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and mostly
typing the letter "s".

The project, by students from the university's MediaLab Arts course,
received ?2,000 from the Arts Council.

Director of the university's Institute of Digital Arts and Technology
(i-DAT), Mike Phillips, denied the project was a disaster and said they
had learned "an awful lot".

He also denied it had been a waste of money.

He said the ?2,000 was spent on purchasing the hardware to set up a
radio link so the activities in the enclosure could be watched live on a
website.

"Compared to the cost of reality TV, this was a tiny pinch of money," he
said.

"It provided very stimulating and fascinating viewing."

The six monkeys - Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan -
produced five pages of text which consisted mainly of the letter "s".

But towards the end of the experiment, their output slightly improved,
with the letters A, J, L and M also appearing.

However, they failed to come up with anything that remotely resembled a
word.

Paignton Zoo scientific officer Dr Amy Plowman said: "The work was
interesting but had little scientific value, except to show that the
'infinite monkey' theory is flawed."

The results of the experiment formed part of a larger project developed
by i-DAT.

They have been published in a limited edition book entitled Notes
Towards The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

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