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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

10 Famous Thought Experiments That Just Boggle Your Mind Part 7

Read Part 6: Galileo's Gravity Experiment

4. Monkeys and Typewriters

You probably have heard about the thing about monkeys and typewriters, it is called the “infinite monkey theorem,” also known as the “monkeys and typewriters” experiment. the theorem states 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."

Sounds absurd? Counter-intuitive? That's for sure. But this is all about probability and infinity. The key idea is that even though the probability of such a thing happening is very, very tiny, the probability still exists.

In 2003, science students at a zoo in the U.K. “tested” the infinite monkey theorem when they put a computer and a keyboard in a primate enclosure. Unfortunately, the monkeys never got around to composing any sonnets. According to researchers, all they managed to produce was five pages consisting almost entirely of the letter “s.” Then the lead male began bashing the keyboard with a stone followed by other monkeys urinating and defecating on it.



The monkeys were supposed to be "random generators". And there's the possibility that randomly generated things might turn out to be good things. In Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning research, genetic algorithms and evolution algorithms are important tools/methods to try to find good solutions in vast state spaces where an exhaustive search is not possible. Such algorithms do need a little bit of "luck" and some extended time to compute, although they are not completely random, but use the help of fit functions to try to go toward the right direction of the solution. They also follow the greedy approach where any step that moves toward the direction of the goal is a good step (this is, however, not necessarily true for the optimal solution). So in a sense, we are systematically generating lots of digital "monkeys" to try to find that piece of wonderful work of Shakespeare. The idea behind this is that maybe given the limited time, we won't be able to achieve Shakespeare, but even if we can get something comparable to a 3rd-Grade level composition, it's a great success, because the creation of such work had no human involvement, it all came from AI.

Interestingly enough, some music writers and composers are prone to the idea of using computer software applications to randomly generate small pieces of music and help these random creations might give them ideas or inspirations of creating their own quality work. Of course the software-generated music were first filtered using AI to get rid of most of the obviously meaningless or bad sequences.


It is worth mentioning that one of the projects I've always want to complete is a Rap Lyric Generator. The idea is that given a music sequence (e.g., Twinkle Little Star music) and a topic (e.g., Robots are awesome), the program would automatically find words, sentences on the Internet that matches the given topic and also rhyme with each other, and then automatically generate lyrics and sing the lyrics using Rap style autonomously. Can you see that this also uses the idea of "digital monkeys" and "invisible typewriters"? However, just like many of my other great ideas, someone will probably beat me to it before I ever find time to work on it.


Read Part 8: The Chinese Room (Turing's Test)


Video of the Day:

Can monkeys make good coffee?