History of Hackish Metaphor for Brute Force

One of my favorite tidbits of obscure hacker culture is a silly synonym for any given brute force algorithm. The British Museum Algorithm refers to a notional basement at the eponymous institution filled with an infinite number of monkeys randomly typing away at an infinite set of typewriters in the vain hope of producing the works of Shakespeare by blind happenstance.

Esther Inlgis-Arkell at io9 reveals that this particular mental construction dates back a little bit further, in varying forms. In humorous fashion she traces how an idea dating from 1900’s France evolved and shrank in scope to take on the more familiar form. The idea has so much humorous appeal that an unfortunately short-lived project was started a few years ago to build a computerized equivalent of the horde of random simians, The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator Project.

Starting with 100 virtual monkeys typing, and doubling the population every few days, it put together random strings of characters. It then checked them against the archived works of Shakespeare. Before it was scrapped, the site came up with 10^35 number of pages, all typed up. Any matches?

In a turn that will be all too familiar to any naive programmer hoping that even the pseudo-randomness into which we can tap on the average computer might yield something coherent given enough cycles, the results after a few years were both scant and obscure: just 23 characters from one of the Bard’s less known works.

The story of the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator Project, io9

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *