Some Assembly Required

Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, or J.C.R. Licklider, has been called a “computer pioneer” for having an early vision of where computers would go long before they did. In his paper, “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” Licklider discusses the future relationships between man and technology. He explains, “Man-computer symbiosis is an expected development in cooperative interaction between men and electronic computers. It will involve very close coupling between the human and the electronic members of the partnership.” Today’s Internet radio companies, including Pandora, seem to have a degree of this “cooperative interaction” between the app and its listeners. Listeners can search for a song or artist through Pandora’s search bar, and it will create their very own stations. If a listener does not particularly enjoy a song, they have the ability to tell Pandora to play a different song through skipping or hitting “thumbs down.” Pandora even offers the option of telling it, “I’m tired of this track,” and it will discontinue to play that song for a few days/weeks. It seems almost obvious that man-computer symbiosis is present in this situation, but on closer look there exposes doubt.

Tyler Gray is co-author of the books The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and The Hit Charade with Harper Collins. He has written for The New York Times, SPIN, Blender, Esquire, and currently writes for Fast Company as the Editorial Director. One of his articles at Fast Company is called, “Pandora Pulls Back the Curtain on its Magic Music Machine,” where he uncovers what’s going on behind the scenes at Pandora. He interviews Tim Westergren, founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Pandora, who explains what is called Pandora’s “Music Genome Project.” The project is being run by Pandora’s employees who hand-craft all of Pandora radio’s music channels. By listening and pairing similar songs, the project now offers an 850,000-plus song library from music broadcasted in the past century. When explaining Pandora’s success, Westergren admits, “Pandora’s secret sauce is people. Music lovers.”

How Stuff Works” is another insight on what Pandora is doing by Julia Layton. Layton is a contributing writer at HowStuffWorks company with a B.A. in English literature from Duke University, and a M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Miami. She gives her own account of the Music Genome Project by explaining, “Pandora has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn’t care what other people who like Gomez also like. 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.” The Genome consists of 400 musical attributes. Layton explains that the employees at Pandora analyze each song that lands on one of Pandora’s stations and breaks them down into various components. By identifying these factors, they can then match them to similar songs.

O’Reilly Media is a company founded by Tim O-Reilly that offers explanations and interpretations on the latest technology trends. The company prides itself on being an active member in the technology community and spreading the knowledge of innovators. O’Reilly published a lengthy article focusing on Pandora named, “Inside Pandora Web Radio.” The article explains Tim Westergren’s vision for Pandora when it began back in January of 2000. “He became fascinated with the way directors described the music they were looking for, which led to his wondering what made people enjoy certain types of music. He asked himself, ‘If people haven’t found any music that they love since college, and artists are struggling to find an audience, is there a role for technology to help bridge the gap?'” Westergren has centered the Music Genome Project on the idea of using technology to connect people with music they will enjoy in a smart and efficient way.

Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg are authors who published “Personal Dynamic Media” in the mid-1970’s about the future of notebook computing. Goldberg is a computer scientist who has developed, programmed, and researched on numerous computer-oriented projects. Kay is also a computer scientist who is best known for his pioneering work in object-oriented programming and user interface design. “Personal Dynamic Media” reveals their predictions and aspirations for a future notebook-computer called the Dynabook. Kay and Goldberg had extensive expectations for this technology, in which they explained, “There should be no discernible pause between cause and effect. One of the metaphors we used when designing such a system was that of a musical instrument, such as a flute, which is owned by its user and responds instantly and consistently to its owner’s wishes. Imagine the absurdity of a one-second delay between blowing a note and hearing it!” Pandora, however, has not yet reached Kay and Goldberg’s hopes just yet. There are times when Pandora takes a moment or two to pause or play, and listeners are not baffled by such a situation.

“Computer Lib/Dream Machines” is a mid-1970’s book that discusses computers and their frustrating inaccessibility. The author, Ted Nelson, is a pioneer of information technology, philosopher, and sociologist, and uniquely coined the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia” in the 1960’s. “Computer Lib/Dream Machines” is a two-sided book: Computer Lib teaches about computers and practically predicted the invention of personal computers, and Dream Machines explains the coming importance of computers in the society of future generations. Nelson begins “Computer Lib” with, “Unfortunately, due to ridiculous historical circumstances, computers have been made a mystery to most of the world. And this situation does not seem to be improving. You hear more and more about computers, but to most people it’s just one big blur.” This is significant to Pandora because we can only use it on computers. We have the ability to download the Pandora app on any smartphone, laptop, or tablet, and if we do not understand these gadgets then Pandora would become inaccessible.

Part of Pandora’s website, investor.pandora.com, published an article called “Pandora Announces Technology Leadership Team Succession” discussing their new “team of technologists” and the pursuit of changes in the company. Pandora refers to their employees as technologists because, according to new Chief Technology Officer Chris Martin, they have, “developed some of the most innovative music technology in the world.” The article continues, “Pandora created the most effective way for music and technology to enhance the lives of music fans and artists alike.” It’s important to recognize that Pandora doesn’t differentiate between their employees and the technology; the way Pandora works is hardly computerized and largely controlled by humans. Pandora is technology nonetheless, so it makes sense to call their employees “technologists.”

Erin Griffith is a writer with Fortune who wrote “Bob Pittman doesn’t believe streaming will kill radio. But he’s built a massive streaming service, just in case.” Griffith was previously employed with PandoDaily writing startups, and AdWeek as a reporter. Her work has appeared in Salon, Cosmopolitan, BBC, AARP magazine, Time Out New York, Bust, The Huffington Post, Long Shot, Got a Girl Crush zine, and Brooklyn Based. This article, with an extensively long title, discusses the future of all traditional and Internet radio companies. Griffith identifies the amount of registered users on all big name Internet radio brands, including Pandora’s 250 million users, and says, “If it were not for the fact that radio is so large, you’d say, ‘Wow these are big numbers’ […] But there are one billion FM radios in the US and only 160 million smartphones and 160 million PCs, so it’s still a subset of the FM marketplace.” According to Griffith and CEO of Clear Channel Internet radio Bob Pittman, the success of Internet radio will not put traditional radio out of business anytime soon. Pandora, and the music industry in general, will not see any surprising changes in the near future.

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LOTR: The Fellowship of the Sources

Week two’s “Man-Computer Symbiosis” was the first place that I started to personally question everything about Pandora. Licklider’s explanation of symbiosis made me curious to find out the degree of symbiosis between Pandora as a form of technology and its human listeners. Licklider defines symbiosis as, “cooperative interaction between man and computers.” I wondered how much of a computer Pandora was. What I mean by this is, does the Pandora app create its music/comedy stations, and choose when to include an advertisement by itself? Or, are these actions empowered by humans? If humans were the ones to assemble these things, I would be compelled to conclude that there is no man-computer symbiosis.

“Pandora Pulls Back the Curtain on its Magic Music Machine” was the first source I found information on that way that Pandora is put together. Pandora’s employees (who have been called music analysts, musicologists, and technologists all by different sources) listen to every song that lands on one of Pandora’s music channels themselves. They break each song down into nearly 400 components. Tyler Gray says, “Professional players who pass job application tests require them to pick, for example, one of four jazz tunes and ‘describe the harmonic language,’ answer whether it’s ‘tonal or modal,’ and ‘outline the progression.'” The employees go through and recognize each song’s melody, lyrics, pitch, speed, and algorithms, and pair them with songs that have similar qualities. Tim Westergren, the owner of Pandora Internet Radio, explains in this article, “It’s true that the algorithms mathematically match songs, but the math, all it’s doing is translating what a human being is actually measuring…You need a human ear to discern.” This bit of information seemed to answer my question on symbiosis entirely. Everything that happens in Pandora, and every reason that Pandora is successful is accredited to human action. Pandora is basically human, and human employees interacting with human listeners is not “man-computer symbiosis.”

“How Pandora Radio Works” by Julia Layton is a similar sources on the process of composing Pandora’s stations. Layton explains, “Pandora has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn’t care what other people who like Gomez also like. 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.” She continues, “Pandora relies on a Music Genome that consists of 400 musical attributes covering the qualities of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, composition and lyrics…The Genome is based on an intricate analysis by actual humans (about 20 to 30 minutes per four-minute song) of the music of 10,000 artists from the past 100 years.” Here again, I am told that ‘actual humans’ are at work at Pandora. Pandora is not its own computer-like machine that listens to music and couples together similar songs. Humans do everything that reaches its audience. Once again, I feel that my question is answered about the degree of “man-computer symbiosis” going on.

A third of my eight sources just reaffirmed what I have been concluding. “Inside Pandora Web Radio” restates, “The magic of Pandora derives from a simple principle: a song listeners enjoy should lead to other songs they’ll enjoy.” Pandora does just this with the help of humans. Human employees hand-make all of Pandora’s stations by putting together similar music, and then people can go listen to them.

Further into this article, however, Westergren asks, “If people haven’t found any music that they love since college, and artists are struggling to find an audience, is there a role for technology to help bridge the gap?” As I’m reading this to myself, I’m compelled to say ‘no, technology does not have a role’ because there is no man-computer symbiosis. But, then again, technology is the middle factor between two groups of humans: those as Pandora and those at home. Technology is a component of the whole process, and it could possibly be working to bridge the gap.

What got me next was Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg’s “Personal Dynamic Media.” Kay and Goldberg explain their aspirations for a futuristic computer notebook called the Dynabook. Their goals include, “There should be no discernible pause between cause and effect. One of the metaphors we used when designing such a system was that of a musical instrument, such as a flute, which is owned by its user and responds instantly and consistently to its owner’s wishes. Imagine the absurdity of a one-second delay between blowing a note and hearing it!” Music obviously made me think back to Pandora. I thought about these aspirations and decided that technology might not be where Kay and Goldberg had hoped just yet. It is not so absurd in today’s age if I hit ‘play’ on Pandora and my song takes a second or two to play. “Pandora,” I thought, “Has glitches and buffers like any other form of technology.” If I came to this conclusion then Pandora must not be merely or just humans. Pandora does have an element of technology; if it didn’t, how would we listen to it? I started to think to myself, “Okay, Pandora is technology, but it is not computerized. The technology is controlled by humans.”

Ted Nelson’s “Computer Lib/Dream Machines” talks about computers and how inaccessible they are. Nelson opens his argument with, “Unfortunately, due to ridiculous historical circumstances, computers have been made a mystery to most of the world. And this situation does not seem to be improving. You hear more and more about computers, but to most people it’s just one big blur.” Luckily, Pandora is not computerized and it is easy to understand. The only computerization is the app itself: the display of play/pause buttons, the process of searching and adding new stations to your profile, and the input of thumbs up or thumbs down to each song. This is all really simple because it is minimal, which brings me back to Kay and Goldberg’s Dynabook. They wished for the Dynabook to be accessible and easy to use by all. Although Pandora may still have a “discernible pause between cause and effect,” it has reached the goal of simplicity by keeping the computerization minimal.

I came to a source called “Pandora Announces Technology Leadership Team Succession” on Pandora’s website that challenged my previously stated conclusions. It caught my attention because they were calling its employees ‘technologists.’ My thought process has been that Pandora is less of technology and more of man, and now Pandora is not even acknowledging a difference between the two? They continued in the article, “Our team of engineers has developed some of the most innovative music technology in the world and changed the way we all consume music.” Okay, so now we’re on the subject of ‘music technology.’ I looked up the definition of technology and Webster’s dictionary states that technology is, “The practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area or a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge .” I believe the first definition combines all of my conclusions into one. If we define technology as “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area,” then Pandora is technology. People are applying their specific skills/knowledge in the music area to create Pandora. So it would be logical to conclude that Pandora is technology, and its employees can appropriately be called ‘technologists,’ without it being completely computerized.

Quick return to my first source: Since Pandora is a form of technology, there must be a degree of “man-computer symbiosis” involved between the technology and other people. It is not such a huge interaction where a listener can do things like tell the app to add more complementary songs, but there is a smaller degree of “cooperative interaction between man and computer” when a listener presses pause/skip/thumbs down. Pandora’s employees have no control over these actions when they occur.

As we all know, technology evolves throughout time. It may get smaller, faster, and/or smarter. My final source, with the extensively long title, “Bob Pittman Doesn’t Believe Streaming Will Kill Radio. But He’s Built a Massive Streaming Service, Just in Case” discusses the future of Internet radio. Erin Griffith identifies the amount of registered users on all big name Internet radio companies, including Pandora’s 250 million, and says, “If it were not for the fact that radio is so large, you’d say, ‘Wow these are big numbers’ […] But there are one billion FM radios in the US and only 160 million smartphones and 160 million PCs, so it’s still a subset of the FM marketplace.” Many people, including myself, would be inclined to say that the ways of streaming music, such as on Pandora, would take over the market in the future. Bob Pittman doesn’t see it happening in his lifetime. Pittman explains, “Satellite didn’t kill FM. AM didn’t kill FM. (Streaming music) is one more choice and one more device you can listen to the radio on.” If this is the case, then Pandora’s future may not be so different. People will still be Pandora’s “secret sauce,” as Tim Westergren likes to say, and the same level of man-computer symbiosis will be occurring. The formation of music itself will likely continue to be controlled by humans in the future, and the formation of radio will, too.

Portable Engelbart

“In the outside world, all forms of intelligence, whether of sound or sight, have been reduced to the form of varying currents in an electric circuit in order that they may be transmitted. Inside the human frame exactly the same sort of process occurs. Must we always transform to mechanical movements in order to proceed from one electrical phenomenon to another? It is a suggestive thought, but it hardly warrants prediction without losing touch with reality and immediateness.”

Every complex being or movement can be reduced to a collection of simple forms of energy. Engelbart asserts that we may not have to reduce these things in the future.

The idea of reducing complex items into simpler components connects to the Music Genome Project of Pandora. Pandora’s musical analysts break down hundreds of songs into their algorithms and melodies to connect to other similar songs. They are taking apart the song the same way that the human brain differentiates the various parts that they like and dislike.

“In such a future working relationship between human problem-solver and computer ‘clerk,’ the capability of the computer for executing mathematical processes would be used whenever it was needed. However, the computer has many other capabilities for manipulating and displaying information that can be of significant benefit to the human in nonmathematical processes of planning, organizing, studying, etc. Every person who does his thinking with symbolized concepts (whether in the form of the English language, pictographs, formal logic, or mathematics) should be able to benefit significantly.”

In the future, computers will be of more benefit than mathematical calculations. Computers will be able to use symbols and different systems to aid with planning, organizing, studying, etc.

Panning for Nuggets #2

I have hit the gold mine of nuggets. My inquiry topic is technically more concerned with Pandora’s business model and advertising, but I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m curious to learn how Pandora works (although I guess this could be part of its business model). I usually can’t find anything, but out of nowhere I discovered everything I wanted to know during this assignment.

Pandora […] grew out of the Music Genome Project, which company founder Tim Westergren began six years ago. […] He became fascinated with the way directors described the music they were looking for, which led to his wondering what made people enjoy certain types of music. He asked himself, “If people haven’t found any music that they love since college, and artists are struggling to find an audience, is there a role for technology to help bridge the gap?”

Pandora has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn’t care what other people who like Gomez also like. 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.

These 2 nuggets are from different sources, but I want to describe the meaningfulness of the passages together. I discovered that the technology behind Pandora is known as the ‘Music Genome Project.’ Most radio stations, online and traditional, play songs based on popularity or connections. Pandora is the only company in the music business that creates stations/playlists based on songs’ algorithms and melodies. I thought this was neat because when I hear a song for the first time and decide whether I like it or not, I don’t think to myself ‘wow I really enjoyed the ABAC rhythm’ or ‘that song was really breathy so I want to hear more songs that are breathy.’ But it makes sense to have technology that does this, because the things that makes songs popular, or the reason that I like 2 different songs is due to the fact that they have these types of similarities.

The last time I panned for nuggets, I found sources that basically said Pandora’s advertising technology makes us stupid. I like these nuggets because they illustrate a different, more positive, view of the technical side of Pandora. This stuff is smart, and definitely unique. The Music Genome Project is revolutionary in its kind and makes me rethink my previous conclusion that the future of Pandora is not bright. Pandora’s technology could grow to change the music business entirely and really ‘bridge the gap’ between musicians and listeners.

“It’s true that the algorithms mathematically match songs, but the math, all it’s doing is translating what a human being is actually measuring,” says Tim Westergren, who founded Pandora in 2000 and now serves as its Chief Strategy Officer. “You need a human ear to discern.” Pandora’s secret sauce is people. Music lovers.

It’s true that the Music Genome Project is innovative, but I realized that the technology is not what should be accredited. Technology is simply the means that people work to help other people find music. Pandora calls its employees ‘musical analysts’ and they work long and hard to find hundreds of connections between various songs. The future of Pandora, then, is not just the technology changing the business. There will always be a need for people to create stations, the same way that there will always be a need for people to create music. Music will never be just technology, I realized. I don’t think this means that the music industry will fall behind to other things that will be completely taken over by machinery. Instead, I find it comforting to know that there will always be a need for people and we will always have control over this technology.

Panning for Nuggets

“Advertising is the art of arresting the human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.”

I realize this is barely a nugget, but it stuck out to me in an eye-opening kind of way. This entire time I’ve been thinking of the future of technology as beneficial, even something that could possibly ‘augment human intellect.’ Never had I thought (at least not in the context of advertising) that the advancement of certain technology could hinder our intellect. Advertisements on Pandora are not something that benefit us, though, and probably will not in the future either. They benefit various companies. As I’m listening to my music on Pandora, my gaze suddenly becomes interrupted by a minute or so of advertising. I’m now captured by these companies tactics and my intelligence is caught by their endorsements. If it works enough, that company will have my business. And either way, Pandora makes money just from me listening.

person-eating-in-front-of-tv

“Social media companies are legitimate advertising websites, no different than, say, Google or Yahoo. The same way Google made its money is the same way Twitter and Facebook will make their money.”

This passage is not much longer than the first, but it is from a similar source that I tagged with #advertisements and #advertising like the other. The way Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook are advertising websites is almost the same way that Pandora is. Sure, Pandora makes some of its money off of membership fees, but advertising is the bigger part of their success. My first nugget suggests that advertising arrests human intellect, and seeing that these websites are advertising websites, it would make sense that they would also arrest human intellect. Well, this makes sense to me at first; Facebook and Twitter are typically for entertainment, not intellectual augmentation. But Google and Yahoo can be informative, right? And in the case of this course, Twitter is being used as a learning tool as well. So is my first nugget technically correct? Is advertising really arresting our intellect? Or, are we ignoring the advertisements on these sites long enough that we benefit from its information more? I would say this is the case with Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook, but it is almost impossible to ignore the advertisements on Pandora. If both of these passages are true, then it seems logical to conclude that Pandora, or at least the minute per hour of advertising hinders our intellect. I now have a very different outlook on the future of Pandora and similar technology.