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Typing monkeys make real mess, no Shakespeare

Saturday, May 10, 2003

LONDON -- Give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, the theory goes, and they will eventually produce the prose the likes of Shakespeare.

Give six monkeys one computer for a month, and they will make a mess.

Researchers at Plymouth University in England reported this week that primates left alone with a computer attacked the machine and failed to produce a single word.

"They pressed a lot of S's," researcher Mike Phillips said Friday. "Obviously, English isn't their first language."

A group of faculty and students in the university's media program left a computer in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo in England, home to six Sulawesi crested macaques.

At first, said Phillips, "the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard."

The notion that monkeys typing at random will eventually produce literature is often attributed to Thomas Huxley, a 19th-century scientist. Mathematicians have also used it to illustrate concepts of chance.

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