Outsmarting Smart Technology
E.D. Kain describes Pandora, a service of which I’d not previously been aware but will now try, as “a free online radio station that does a pretty impressive job of tuning its stations to your own tastes. The mechanism it uses to do this is a simple thumbs up/thumbs down on each song.” This, in turn, spawns what he dubs the “Pandora Conundrum.”
But sometimes I’m not sure what to do. For instance, a moment ago a John Mayer cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” came up. Now, I really like that song, and I really like Tom Petty. I really don’t like John Mayer, however. In fact, I find it quite impossible to listen to his music. So do I vote that I like the song, because I like Tom Petty? Will a no vote only influence whether or not the station plays John Mayer or does a vote on a cover reflect back to the original artist?
I’ve faced the same issues with TiVo and Netflix, both of which employ recommendation systems. Since I don’t understand the algorithm these things use, I always feel a need to second guess the system. Rather than rating a particular movie, then, I often try to figure out what the impact of my score for that movie will be on recommendations for other movies.
With TiVo, which I no longer have because DirecTV’s HD format is incompatible and thus requires me to use their inferior DVR instead, the thumbs up/thumbs down thing was particularly bizarre because it would interpret my approval of a movie as an indication that I wanted to see that particular movie as often as humanly possible. This was not at all useful, so I eventually turned the auto-recording of suggested movies off altogether.