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Computing Taste

Algorithms and the Makers of Music Recommendation

Computing Taste

Algorithms and the Makers of Music Recommendation

Meet the people who design the algorithms that capture our musical tastes.
The people who make music recommender systems have lofty goals: they want to broaden listeners’ horizons and help obscure musicians find audiences, taking advantage of the enormous catalogs offered by companies like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora. But for their critics, recommender systems seem to embody all the potential harms of algorithms: they flatten culture into numbers, they normalize ever-broadening data collection, and they profile their users for commercial ends. Drawing on years of ethnographic fieldwork, anthropologist Nick Seaver describes how the makers of music recommendation navigate these tensions: how product managers understand their relationship with the users they want to help and to capture; how scientists conceive of listening itself as a kind of data processing; and how engineers imagine the geography of the world of music as a space they care for and control.
Computing Taste rehumanizes the algorithmic systems that shape our world, drawing attention to the people who build and maintain them. In this vividly theorized book, Seaver brings the thinking of programmers into conversation with the discipline of anthropology, opening up the cultural world of computation in a wide-ranging exploration that travels from cosmology to calculation, myth to machine learning, and captivation to care.

216 pages | 7 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Computer Science

Culture Studies

History: History of Technology

Music: General Music


Computing Taste tells a fresh story in the increasingly crowded scholarship on artificial intelligence and culture. It will be immensely useful for those outside of computer science and engineering who want to understand how people think and work in the AI industry.”

Jonathan Sterne, author of "Diminished Faculties," "MP3," and "The Audible Past"

Table of Contents

Prologue: Open Plan
Introduction: Technology with Humanity
Chapter 1 Too Much Music
Chapter 2 Captivating Algorithms
Chapter 3 What Are Listeners Like?
Chapter 4 Hearing and Counting
Chapter 5 Space Is the Place
Chapter 6 Parks and Recommendation
Epilogue: What Are We Really Doing Here?
Works Cited

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