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I mashed the key board because I wanted to type dlnlfasdbfb;a

16/04/2009

random-chance

So I got some good comments from my number one and possibly only reader on the last iTunes post.  I’ll start with his second question: what do I mean by randomness?

My initial response is that randomness, in terms of iTunes shuffling songs, means that every time I play song 1 on a list of 100 songs the next song will have an equal chance of being song 1 through 100 each time.  However, I tried to think about this in concrete terms and came up with a couple of examples that I feel pretty well proves that this kind of randomness is no different than the randomness that iTunes currently employs.  The difference is that we are able to easily repeat the outcome of random song selection under the current shuffle script.  Lets go on to some examples because they are easier to understand than all this abstract crap.

So say you have a penny and you flip it a hundred times… Is that random?  I would say that if you want to be absolutely accurate you would be forced to say no.  The reason is that the penny’s ability to land either on its head or tail is under three basic constraints, or if you want to translate that into iTunes, there are three basic factors that can effect your song sequence.  First, how you flip the penny:  what angle you flip it at, how strong you flip it, how high up from the surface below you flip it etc.  Second, gravity’s effect on the penny.  Third, the surface below: how will the penny bounce etc.  So if we could easily control the variables involved in these three basic factors in every aspect and reproduce them 100 times then we could get heads or tails 100 times in a row and no one would go writing plays about it.

Ok you say, what about if you have a bag of 100 distinguishable marbles and without looking at them you take one at a time, isn’t that random?  Again no and for basically the same reasons.  The only difference is that we experience the illusion of randomness because we can’t see the marbles until they have been selected.  In other words: 1) in an ideal environment the exact same sequence of marbles could be reproduced; 2) Sequence is not effected by the perception or expectation of the drawer (imagine a blind person drawing the marbles).

Back to iTunes.  So if I want iTunes so play songs in the “random” way that I want, I need something to alter the variables of the song playlist environment in much the same way as flipping a coin 100 times in the exactly the same way is practically impossible for a human.  The question is though, is that really creating randomness?  Think of it like this, you can’t flip a coin exactly the same way, but if you could analyze the basic three factors involved in flipping the coin each time, even if the variables changed, couldn’t you then calculate the outcome?  What I mean is that a random result is not as I incorrectly assumed, unexpected, it is in fact merely: the result of change under circumstances in which the viewer cannot by normal means of perception account for the cause of each particular result.

My conclusion is that iTunes in all practical terms is random, it’s just a randomness that we can reproduce and therefore are able to “see” the marbles before they have been taken out of the sack.

The second comment was to define what I meant by AI, however after the above revelation, I need to assess what I was trying to say.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 16/04/2009 10:44 pm

    Yeah, this is definitely the direction I was heading with those previous comments, that unless you have a clear idea of the difference between Artificial Intelligence and regular Intelligence, it’s hard to prove anything about AI.

    It’s easy enough to create a program that gives you a different “random” sequence at different times (just use some feature of the time as an input), but as you point out, there is a distinction to be made between “true” randomness and “perceived” randomness. I’m not sure that human intelligence can use true randomness; it may just be more difficult to cut through the perception of randomness than it is with iTunes.

  2. Laura permalink
    19/04/2009 10:35 pm

    The problem with statistics is that random can mean several different things. Apparently, iTunes uses one definition, and you use another. Just another reason to avoid statistics!! Your writing continues to impress and amaze me – and not just b/c I am your mom.

    • tincolor permalink*
      20/04/2009 5:52 pm

      I see what you are trying to say, but disagree with you when you say that random has several different meanings. I tried to define the process in which random results could be generated in terms of iTunes only for the purpose of showing that iTunes is not random in the sense that there is no order to its selection process and there for its results.

      The problem that I came across was trying to find a practical example of true random selection. While I can imagine the results, I cannot imagine how the mechanism would work since by its nature automated selection must follow a set of logic based rules or scripts.

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