iPod Shuffle and Randomness

Saturday 7 October 2006 at 1:20 pm | In Articles | 1 Comment

In an article Oh no, not Steely Dan again published in todays’ Guardian colour magazine, Steven Levy explains, in layman’s terms, why the iPod’s shuffle produces seemingly non-random results (so Steely Dan appears to be played more than other artists on his iPod) yet Apple’s engineers reassure him that the code does produce randomness.

The article has a lovely quote:

    “Our brains aren’t wired to understand randomness – there’s even a huge industry that takes advantage of people’s inability to deal with random distributions. It’s called gambling.”

The way Apple dealt with this apparent non-randomness is fascinating.

The article quotes Brian Hansen’s experiments which you will find at How Much Does iTunes Like My Five-Star Songs?.

Back in the 1970s the Open University’s first level course M100 discussed the problem of defining randomness. It was usually defined in terms of probability which was itself defined in terms of randomness but it didn’t discuss Claude Shannon’s important contribution mentioned in the article. You can read more about randomness at Wikipedia.

This article (an edited extract from a forthcoming book about the iPod The Perfect Thing) should be required reading for everyone.

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  1. I noticed this effect of order within chaotic randomness., When I bought my Ford Ranger. All of a sudden there were Ford Rangers everywhere. So much so that they appearred more frequently then their proportionate share of the road population would dictate. Even worse, one of the most popular sedans like the Toyota Camry, had absolutely disappeared from the road population! I am sure if things were truly random the propionate weight of Camrys over a particular rick-up should not make disappear.

    Comment by peter — Saturday 7 October 2006 8:38 pm #

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