Virtual monkeys bash out Shakespeare play

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A team of monkeys - virtual ones, unfortunately - has succeeded in producing one of Shakespeare's plays, as well as a lesser-known poem.

Programmer Jesse Anderson, who presumably doesn't have enough room in his back yard for a zoo, is using Hadoop, Amazon EC2 and Ubuntu Linux for the project.

He's built what he calls Map Monkeys, which create random strings of nine ASCII characters and then check them against the Bard's works. As strings are found to match, Anderson crosses them off his list.

"The monkeys will continue typing away until every work of Shakespeare is randomly created," he says.

And, after generating about five trillion characters over the course of the last month, he's finally succeeded in stitching together enough correct strings to complete, first, the poem A Lover's Complaint, followed shortly afterwards by The Tempest.

"It is one small step for a monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere," says Anderson.

Unfortunately, a little doubt hangs over Anderson's first achievement. Based on textual analysis, many academics have suggested that the poem is not in fact Shakespeare's work.

But, he says, he's now missing only six characters from As You Like it and just four from Cymbeline.

Anderson says he was inspired by an episode of the Simpsons in which Mr Burns reveals to Homer that he has a room full of monkeys, all bashing away to produce best-selling screenplays.

It's not been so lucrative for Anderson, though, who says he's funded the whole thing himself, just for fun.