An image of a monkey at a typewriter
You’ve no doubt heard it said that if you sit a monkey at a typewriter and allow it to hit random keys for an infinite period of time it will, eventually, produce a piece of text such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. It is a theory which has been much quoted throughout history and now scientists at the University of Leeds have published a report detailing the results of an eighteen month-long study into the theorem.
The team of scientists supervised a group of six White-fronted Capuchins over the eighteen month period, with each monkey being provided with its own typewriter. The subsequent results astonished the team.
“We went in to this programme expecting to dis-prove the theorem, or at the very least we believed that the monkeys might produce a lesser Shakespeare play such as The Winter’s Tale or Timon of Athens,” said Bob Montgomery, leader of the group. “Initially, for the first five months or so, the monkeys produced very little but an endless scroll of jargon, numbers and letters with no meaning, but then they began to piece together whole words and sentences, and before long they were structuring paragraphs.”
As the months progressed the output from the monkeys extended to entire pages of text, leaving Professor Montgomery and his team amazed. “I remember the day clearly,” reminisced Mr. Montgomery. “It was a Monday afternoon and we were returning to the lab after a particularly enjoyable lunch. What we saw when we arrived left us gobsmacked. Between them, the monkeys had produced the entire Tuesday edition of The Sun newspaper.”
That wasn’t the end of the monkeys endeavour, however. By early 2010 the White-fronted Capuchins had created a document of even greater significance than that solitary edition of The Sun: the Conservative party manifesto for the 2010 general election.
“What impressed us about the latest text wasn’t necessarily the content – which was, to say the least, debatable – but it was the teamwork which the monkeys displayed on the collaboration. To put together such a large document with so many varying ideas and concepts was quite incredible.”
With the research now complete, four of the monkeys have been returned to their natural habitat. One White-fronted Capuchin was head-hunted by the Conservative party, so brilliant was its work on the manifesto, to serve as a communication aide to Chancellor Kenneth Clark, whilst the sixth monkey is now running its own chain of discount hat stores in the south-east of England.