Monkey See, Monkey Do

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NEW YORK: They may not be able to bang out the works of Shakespeare on the old Royal just yet, but primates are getting pretty good at math. A couple of rhesus monkeys at Columbia University have perfected the art of counting - up to nine, at least - according to a study published Friday in the journal Science. "They share with humans the ability to master simple arithmetic on at least the level of a two-year-old child," said researcher Elizabeth Brannon.

Which may give some accounting executives cause for concern. But perhaps its the data entry folks who should feel most threatened by this turn of events. The monkeys were able to identify the numbers on a touch-sensitive computer screen; press one banana followed by two trees and three triangles, for example, and the almighty unseen hand delivers a special reward. It was, said Columbia psychology professor Herbert Terrace, "like using your password to get money from a cash machine." So if an infinite number of monkeys are given an infinite number of ATMs, presumably one of them will eventually withdraw a hundred bucks and remember to get a receipt.