Nugget Curation #1

“Assume a linear ratio of 100 for future use. Consider film of the same thickness as paper, although thinner film will certainly be usable. Even under these conditions there would be a total factor of 10,000 between the bulk of the ordinary record on books, and its microfilm replica. The Encyclopoedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk. If the human race has produced since the invention of movable type a total record, in the form of magazines, newspapers, books, tracts, advertising blurbs, correspondence, having a volume corresponding to a billion books, the whole affair, assembled and compressed, could be lugged off in a moving van. Mere compression, of course, is not enough; one needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it, and this aspect of the matter comes later. Even the modern great library is not generally consulted; it is nibbled at by a few.” -Vannevar Bush

The way that Bush describes how books are compressed by technology is the same way that music has been compressed. In the past, the only way to store books were in great libraries on levels and levels of shelves and tables. Music, stored in records, CDs, or cassettes, were also housed in large music libraries, music stores, record label companies, etc. The progression of technology has allowed us to have a “movable type” of storage that is the size of “one end of a desk” (or even smaller now). Pandora is one of these technologies that assembles and compresses music into different categories or stations for convenient, portable use. Like thousands of books can be stored on a Kindle or Nook, thousands of songs and various artists are now available for listening trough Pandora. Bush says, “[O]ne needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it.” Well, every song on Pandora is first consulted with a musical analyst that works for the company. Of the sources I’ve bookmarked on Diigo, one explains that actual humans have analyzed music from close to 10,000 artists dating back to the past 100 years. Songs do not end up on Pandora by random – they are all consulted individually. Pandora’s listeners, however, may very well “nibble at” these songs, and not fully consult every song it offers. Nonetheless, Bush’s assertion is very relatable to Pandora.

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“In one sense of course, any man-made system is intended to help man, to help a man or men outside the system. If we focus upon the human operator within the system, however, we see that, in some areas of technology, a fantastic change has taken place during the last few years. “Mechanical extension” has given way to replacement of men, to automation, and the men who remain are there more to help than to be helped. In some instances, particularly in large computer-centered information and control systems, the human operators are responsible mainly for functions that it proved infeasible to automate. Such systems (“humanly extended machines,” North might call them) are not symbiotic systems. They are “semi-automatic” systems, systems that started out to be fully automatic but fell short of the goal.” -J.C.R. Licklider

Of course any man-made system, as Licklider explains, is intended to help man. Society would not create technology that would be detrimental or deprive us somehow. The compression of records explained by Bush, I believe, is a man-made technology that certainly has been to our advantage. But Pandora, being one of these compression technologies, is largely reliable on human operators, and is therefore not fully automatic. One of my own sources explains that Pandora’s human element is their “secret sauce” and they need human ears. The Music Genome Project, or the way the company creates its stations, has proved “infeasible to automate.” Throughout my research this is what I’ve been trying to understand – the level of man-computer symbiosis between Pandora, its employees, and its listeners. Taking into consideration Licklider’s allegation, Pandora is not a symbiotic system (at least in present times; Pandora could certainly ‘reach the goal’ eventually, although I’m not sure that they want to).

“The computer is as inhuman as we make it. The computer is no more “cold” and “inhuman” than a toaster, bathtub or automobile (all associated with warm human activities).” -Ted Nelson

So computers are inhuman, and Pandora is so reliant on humans, that I’m wondering if it is really right to call Pandora technology? Hear me out: so far with the interpretations made on Bush’s and Licklider’s nuggets, it seems logical to say that Pandora is largely a human progression, and it merely interacts with its clients through technology.

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Pandora’s employee’s are the ones that are responsible for listening to music and creating connections between artists and songs. The only component of Pandora that is independent of human control is the sequence of songs and advertisements. In fact, if smart phones or computer didn’t exist, Pandora wouldn’t either. Pandora is not its own invention, like the television or the tablet. Pandora, as I stated before, is just a composition of human work that is accessed through technology.

“Every process of thought or action is made up of sub-processes. Let us consider such examples as making a pencil stroke, writing a letter of the alphabet, or making a plan. Quite a few discrete muscle movements are organized into the making of a pencil stroke; similarly, making particular pencil strokes and making a plan for a letter are complex processes in themselves that become sub-processes to the over-all writing of an alphabetic character. Although every sub-process is a process in its own right, in that it consists of further sub-processes, there seems to be no point here in looking for the ultimate bottom of the process-hierarchical structure. There seems to be no way of telling whether or not the apparent bottoms (processes that cannot be further subdivided) exist in the physical world or in the limitations of human understanding.” -Doug Engelbart

My independent research has led me to a source that says, “When you create a radio station on Pandora, it uses a pretty radical approach to delivering your personalized selections: Having analyzed the musical structures present in the songs you like, it plays other songs that possess similar musical traits. Pandora relies on a Music Genome that consists of 400 musical attributes covering the qualities of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, composition and lyrics.”

Pandora takes a song, a complex measure, and simplifies it by its algorithms, melodies, tunes, and lyrics. We do not usually regard music as having 400 different musical attributes (unless maybe you are in the music industry), but these songs are made up of sub-processes, simpler components, that Pandora’s music analysts identify and group together in similar categories. It is hard to say, as Engelbart points out in complex structures, what exactly is the very bottom component of the hierarchy. Is the rhythm the simplest part of a song? Perhaps the tempo? Maybe, after all, each component is fairly equal and they are just simply different elements that can be taken apart. Either way, it is true that every process is surely made up of sub-processes, including Pandora.

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