In 1929, being the first English language version I've been able to find, A.S. Eddington wrote, "... If I let my fingers wander idly over the keys of a typewriter it might happen that my screed made an intelligible sentence. If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum. The chance of their doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel." He penned this in The Nature of the Physical World: The Gifford Lectures, 1927. New York: Macmillan, 1929, on page 72. I'm sure there have been several hundred attributible cases of its use, here of which are just a handful.
I've always found the concept to be somewhat horrifying. Simply imagining millions of wild animals banging on pieces of mechanical equipment and randomly producing text is shocking in both its absurdity and impracticality, but the metaphor does get its point across, if in a ridiculously jarring manner. Later renditions refer to an infinite number of monkeys prancing about infinitely on an infinite number of sickeningly redundant typewriters to produce the works of Shakespeare. What a mess! Within that particularly OCD moment I happened upon a metaphor which has a more human and comprehensible approach.
In all of the centuries of recorded human writing with millions upon millions of humans writing something at one time or another is it truly impossible for an individual to copy someone else, word for word, without having stolen the words?
There has to be a mathematical factor to the problem which should be able to suss out that elusive tipping point where phrases like "...I like cake..." and "...you're not ugly..." are very easy to replicate amongst many thousands of humans among millions within a 10 year span, a mere blink in the life of the universe. Since I'm not a mathematician, I can't say for certain, but it seems reasonably possible. Its a simple factor or life. 1 in 150 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We know that and don't dispute it, with exception to some odd percentage points here and there as well as that small number who claims its all just a hoax, like the moon landing.
My theory is strengthened even more so by the simple fact that there are only so many stories which can be told based on human experience and understanding. Science fiction is prone to this even less so due to its speculative nature, but not all science fiction is deeply speculative, either. Let's say I write about robots, which I indeed do, having a deep love of all things Isaac Asimov has written. The short story-let, Titanium, a snippet of the Counterspace universe, examines a few moments in time from the perspective of a robot. While I didn't specify the Three Laws of Robotics or define that the robot had a positronic brain, it could easily be assumed that these elements were in place based on the robots "thoughts" and the manner in which it calculated surrounding elements and its interactions with Fedder.
Had I not been familiar with Asimov's work, might I have been able to determine the Three Laws or positronics on my own? Certainly. I might just as easily have posited Five Laws and a liquid-suspended artificially grown tissue brain used for data storage and pathway-based processing powered by a captive nanosingularity. The intensity of even the nanosingularity might have deleterious effects on the living matter of the brain, causing it to have a limited lifespan. Is it reasonable to assume that no other writer has devised this concept for fictional robotics? One might say that I would have to familiarize myself with the entire collected works of all science fiction writers in order to avoid the possibility of plagiarising them.
Its a rather provocative idea, isn't it?