Machine Learning and Serendipity

Today I had a wonderful experience that could not have happened without machine learning. I subscribe to the  Itunes music streaming service which allows me to download an unlimited amount of music for $10/month. For some of you, that $10 might be too much for too little. And indeed, there are times when I really don’t leverage it very well. I can go weeks without listening to any music, but then, all of a sudden, I hear something I like and off I go to Itunes. This is the story of my discovery of a wonderful musical group that I don’t think I would have ever learned of without the power of machine learning.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and one that I like is Seriously. They posted an episode about keening in Ireland. Most of the music they played was simply beautiful, and thankfully, they shared the playlist. One of the bands that was played was The Gloaming so I downloaded both of their albums. (I recommend both albums highly if you like Irish music.) Then because I ‘loved’ The Gloaming, Itunes suggested that I might like Adrian Raso and the Fanfare Ciocarlia.  Mr. Raso is a guitarist and Fanfare Ciocarlia is a Gypsy brass band. Together they recorded the album Devil’s Tale. Unbelievable combination! I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. How the Itunes algorithm got me from The Gloaming to Adrian Raso I have no idea. But this is how machine learning works. It annotates each data point (in this case the band The Gloaming) with multiple tags. When I told the software that I loved The Gloaming, it then compared the tags for The Gloaming with other songs and artists in the database, and found the album Devil’s Tale.

To make this happen, I have to give up some of my privacy. I am sure that Itunes is running some complex calculations on my demographic data and using it to sell me more. So far, I am ok with this unspoken bargain because it can lead to incredible moments of serendipity.

In the meantime, here is a link to Adrian Raso’s website, and one to The Gloaming as well. They are both simply incredible.