A Question of Monkeys
Him: Given enough time, a thousand monkeys typing on a thousand typewriters will produce the complete works of William Shakespeare.
Me: That doesn’t sound right.
Him: A thousand monkeys typing on a thousand typewriters will produce all of William Shakespeare’s works.
Me: I heard you. It’s just not possible.
Him: Yes, it is. There is no time limit.
Me: If there’s one thing I know, it’s monkeys. They’re just not right for the job.
Him: It doesn’t matter. Eventually—
Me: You might want to try English professors.
Me: Instead of monkeys.
Him: Well, that would be faster, but the point is that it could be done with a thousand monkeys.
Me: Are you giving them a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare as a go-by?
Him: No, that would defeat the purpose.
Me: So it has to be monkeys? Well, you don’t have enough.
Him: Enough what? Monkeys? They have an unlimited amount of time, so I don’t need any more.
Me: You can’t work a monkey around the clock. They’re going to have to work in shifts. Even if you were to work the monkeys in 12-hour shifts and only give them one day off a week, you’re going to need 2.33 monkeys to occupy just one typewriter around the clock. That’s 2,333 monkeys to man all of your typewriters. What’s that going to do to your timetable? Don’t get me started on unions. If the monkeys un—
Him: There is no timetable.
Me: Have you thought about the life expectancy of the monkeys? Let’s pretend that all monkeys live a hundred years, which would be pretty optimistic for monkeys working in your sweatshop. That means a fresh supply of monkeys coming in every century. They have to be retrained. I’m sure there’s an orientation for newbs—
Him: The monkeys are immortal and don’t require rest.
Me: That’s fucking awesome. Then why are you tasking them to recreate things that’ve already been written?
Him: They’re only good for random typing.
Me: Don’t you think that there’s a possibility that they might accidentally type Hemingway—or God forbid Dan Brown—first? What if these monsters reverse the order and recreate Angels and Demons before The Da Vinci Code. It really doesn’t matter. Both are going to suck either way, but still no Shakespeare.
Him: Given enough time, they would produce both of those literary atrocities, and the Shakespeare, and in both orders.
Me: Then you owe it to society to train some armed monkey guards to kill the typing monkeys if they ever come close to reproducing a Dan Brown novel. Promise me that you’ll do that.
Him: That seems patently unfair. How would they even know if they were randomly about to reproduce a Dan Brown book? The whole point is that the monkeys are inadvertently producing Shakespeare’s works by hitting keys. They’re not trying to produce anything.
Him: Of course. I would wipe out the entire genus before I would let them produce a Dan Brown novel.
Me: That’s a relief. So the monkeys aren’t even trying?
Me: Then you’re going to need a whole lot more monkeys and typewriters.
Him: No, because like I said, they have an infinite amount of time to get it done.
Me: Why do you hate these monkeys so much?
Him: I’m indifferent to the monkeys. I just want them to keep typing away.
Me: Is that why they’re so poorly equipped?
Him: How did you determine that they’re poorly equipped?
Me: When was the last time that you used a typewriter? You could give the monkeys laptops and route them to the same printer. You probably need a good IT guy.
Him: That’s sexist. Anyway, typewriters will do.
Me: You’re talking about thousands of years. Where are you going to get ribbon in a couple of hundred years when they’ve stopped making it and the stocks have run out? Plus, you’re going to need someone to clean the dung out of the moving parts.
Him: Fine. We’ll periodically update the technology, and did you say “dung.”
Me: Do you know anything about monkeys? They love to fling their own feces. Also people never refer to the throwing motion as anything but “flinging.” Isn’t that weird?
Him: I’ll keep them in diapers.
Me: Absolutely disgusting. Why don’t you just culture the Ebola and infect them yourself.
Him: What do you propose?
Me: A single robot could have this done in under five minutes.