Can iPod learn? Apple iPod’s Shuffle feature seems not so random to some

“Shuffle commands have been around since the dawn of the CD player. But the sheer quantity of music on an MP3 player like the iPod – and in its desktop application, iTunes – has enabled the function to take on an entirely new sense of scale and scope. It also heightens the risk that a long-forgotten favorite song will pop up, for better or for worse, in mixed company,” Rachel Dodes reports for The New York Times.

“There is an unintended consequence of the allure of Shuffle: it is causing iPod users to question whether their devices ‘prefer’ certain types of music,” Dodes reports. “Revere Greist, a doctoral student and amateur bicycle racer in Los Angeles, has concluded that his iPod’s Shuffle command favors the rapper 50 Cent – and perhaps more important, that it knows exactly the right time to play 50 Cent’s biggest hit, ‘In Da Club.’ He finds the dramatic beat, coupled with the lyrics ‘Go Shorty, it’s your birthday,’ inspirational.”

“At the discussion site, one posting said: ‘I’m pretty sure iTunes is not sorting my songs randomly. It seems to learn. I’d say it’s using some Bayesian logic and/or simple neural networks to vary probabilities of songs to be selected and adjust parameters of selection by the users history of song skipping.’ When confronted with such elaborate theories, Stan Ng, Apple Computer’s director of iPod product marketing, laughed. ‘The funny thing about it is that it really is random,’ he said. ‘When you turn on Shuffle Songs, it creates a randomized list of all the music on your iPod without repeating a song.’ According to Mr. Ng, there is no way that an iPod can be a ‘fan’ of a particular artist or band. Rather, he asserted, the anthropomorphizing of the iPod is ‘just another example of how much people love them,'” Dodes reports.

Full article here.


  1. common. you don’t rerally think that will smith loving his ipod and starring in irobot means that the ipod is the first version of AI? do you?

    so you have lots of disco music. guess what? a lot more diso will be played randomly.

    i am curious though as to the algorithm Aplle is using. anybody knows?

  2. I like the New York Times. It’s generally a good source of unbiased news reporting, although they did stoop to a little obedient gung-ho gun-waving pseudo-patriotism in the run-up to the Iraq war. But this article is the most vacuous piece of meaningless tripe that I’ve choked on in several decades of newspaper reading. Maybe I should just stop reading the Times and get all of my news from TV now. It couldn’t be much less nutritional.

  3. My brother and I have both noted that shuffle mode seems to skew towards the first few artists played. For example, if the first two songs in shuffle mode are from artist X and artist Y, then songs from artist X and artist Y seem to pop up more frequently than would be expected…though such weighting wouldn’t be “truly random”…

  4. Dumbest thing ever!! if u have more songs by one artisit there is going be a higher possibilty that the artist’s song is going to be played. “And GOD-forbid it plays the their favortie song from the artist!!” OMG my iPod is reading my mind!! silly, silly people.

  5. Dumbest thing ever!! if u have more songs by one artist there is going be a higher possibilty that the artist’s song is going to be played. “And GOD-forbid it plays their favorite song from the artist!!” OMG my iPod is reading my mind!! silly, silly people.

    edited version, lol

  6. *giggle* ahhh… “No Sleep til Brooklyn” ruining your mood. Maybe it could be a song of inspiration. Assuming you don’t live in Brooklyn, I’d bet the girlfriend might appreciate your performance.

    I love Shuffle mode. I love Shuffle Mode most when combined with Smart Playlist or just regular playlist. You can use the playlist to create the mood, but still be surprised by Shuffle mode.

  7. I completely don’t believe that the Shuffle is completely random. It seems to take into account a song’s Rating, Play Count, and/or Played Last Date.

    For instance, I recently rated 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins 5 stars. Before, it never came up in the Shuffle… now, it is ALWAYS in the first 100 shuffled songs. What’s more is that OTHER smashing pumpkins songs are included more often too.

    Totally random? Not! ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

  8. GOOD! the thing with shuffle is there are still 3 star songs on your ipod.. but you probably don’t want to hear those..

    most people who have a Favorite Songs smart playlist (stanard iTunes playlist) don’t wanna hear 3 star songs anyway..

    The iTunes playlist works pretty much like where you’ll never hear the same song twice in a randomized set

  9. Oy! My problem is that it prefers Jennifer Lopez. I’ll be listening to music and then I get embarassed when someone hears me listening to her. I don’t know why I bought her 2 CDs. Now it gets played all the time. Luckily I balance it out with the Foo Fighters (2 CDs) and Smash Mouth (2 CDs). It definitely is random if you consider how many songs from a particular artist you have. To check the randomness, just deselect a few of the songs from the playlist.

  10. People just do not understand the nature of randomness and chaos and their brains are programmed to find patterns. This is why so many people seem to “see” a lack of randomness.

    Something might happen only one in a million times. But, it could happen the first time, or two times in a row, or not at all. It does not mean that it won’t happen again for a million tries.

  11. *** a good source of unbiased news reporting,** The NEW YORK TIMES???? You’re kidding, right? Totally kidding. The New York Times is about as BIASED as you can get does nothing but promote its own agenda.
    Unbiased….. you’re killing me here!

    But as for the story itself, I like the theory that it just shows people’s love of their iPod….

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