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HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2013 > Article Detail

LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

The Monkey Writer Gang

To the Editors:

Brian Hayes’s column “First Links in the Markov Chain(Computing Science, March–April) reminded me of one of the first articles I ever read in American Scientist, one that for some reason stuck so firmly in my mind that I was able to reach onto my bookshelf and retrieve the issue in seconds, after a period of 36 years. That issue, November–December 1977, contained a remarkable entry by W. R. Bennett, Jr., titled “How Artificial Is Intelligence?” Starting with the idea of an army of monkeys pounding away at keyboards and producing random text, Dr. Bennett described how, if the monkeys were guided by probability-weighted transition matrices, they could generate documents that captured some of the flavor of the original texts from which the matrices were calibrated. The idea of “second-order Italian monkeys” and “fourth-order Edgar Allan Poe monkeys” was just the kind of weird idea that captured my imagination. Forever, it seems.

Sandy Steier
Spring Valley, NY


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First Links in the Markov Chain

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