Bret Greenstein

Vice President, Rational Complex & Embedded Systems

IBM Software Group

Engineering is heavily based on math and logic. This classic thought experiment came up in a meeting this week as we considered how long it would take to come up with a certain combination of technical terms. In this thought experiment, the theory is that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem

Fortunately, we don't need to think about this for an infinite amount of time since others have already documented their views in Wikipedia. The consensus appears to be that the probability of this actually happening approaches zero as the time approaches infinity. While this might sound obvious, there is significant math and theory behind it, and there are scenarios suggested which would make it impossible, including the thought that there is nothing that ensures that all the keys are even used. I particularly liked the example given in the article where they tested this with real monkeys who "produce nothing but five pages consisting largely of the letter S, the lead male began by bashing the keyboard with a stone...".

So, the next time you read an engineering paper that appears to contain random collections of technical jargon, consider the possibility that it may be the work of an immortal monkey with a lot of time to type.