Shazam – A knowledge evolutionary tool?

platoAround 2442 years ago in low tech Athens a wise thinker – Plato – demonstrated his deep understanding of the value of knowledge and the beauty of music. He understood that music gives the universe a soul, wings to our minds, flights of imagination and life to everything but equally he understood that the soul needs to live and for that knowledge is the food.

Music may be non-verbal but is clearly an audible communication that speaks directly to the human consciousness, intellect or whatever makes the soul of a human life. Music follows the rules of this universe and its physics are demonstrated in a rich and wonderful relationship to the mathematics deep within each melody and harmony – a phenomena of nature.

Sadly, unless one has the sheet music representation, music doesn’t come with its own readable metadata. Recognition of a tune or a song lies deep within the human intellect, generated by repeated hearing or practice, allowing recall and the ability to hum, innovate, whistle and sing.

Shazam is changing this knowledge weakness and further minimizing our human frailty. Once you have used it you find it unsettling in its speed and accuracy. While far from perfect, it is clearly a substantial and emerging machine enhanced knowledge skill for humanity.


Shazam is a truly innovative knowledge assistant for humans. While simple in execution, this belies the underlying complexity which is both daunting and exciting in its scope and potential. Shazam Entertainment Ltd was founded in 1999 by Chris Barton, Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery Wang and Dhiraj Mukherjee and is based in London. The company is expanding into integration within cinema, advertising, TV and retail environments. We will have to wait to see where this innovative thinking will lead.

Shazam uses built-in smart phone technology and gathers or “listens” to audio being played. It creates an acoustic fingerprint based on the sample, and compares it against a central database for a match. Sounds simple but belies the complexity of the underlying algorithms, data storage and governance needed to make it work every time. It is now able to run constantly in the background identifying for you the music that surrounds, while you do other tasks.

Is this a tool which helps us to manage information overload or infoglut or does it, with great subtlety, generate yet even more information as metadata? That data in turn driving us to look at more of the millions of new music published each year to derive an even better understanding of what is already out there.

A question to ponder as I yet again wonder what that piece of music is!


Knowledge – A Journey of Discovery

Toward the end of the 20th Century it was observed by many commentators and researchers that the world was moving toward an information rich or knowledge-based society (Baeyer, 2003) and that organisations that “identify, value, create and evolve their knowledge assets” (Rowley, 1999) could be successful and competitive. Drucker (1993) and others argued that knowledge would become the main competitive tool in many businesses.
Drucker (1993) described knowledge, rather than capital or labour as the only meaningful economic resource in this knowledge society, and Senge (1990) warned that many organisations were unable to function effectively as knowledge based organisations, because they suffered from learning disabilities. An organisation’s ability to know as well as learn, adapt and change has been identified as a core competency for survival (Hussain, Lucas and Asif, 2004). There appeared and remains a pervading mantra that companies must innovate and even reinvent themselves or they will cease growing or wither away. (Nunes & Breen, 2013).
Organisations are repositories of knowledge resources and many are, experiencing demands for innovation, being exposed to disruptive forces and often working internally toward reinvention (Nunes & Breen, 2013). The outcome of these disruptive forces are influenced heavily by an organization’s ability to understand, maintain, seek out and add to their knowledge resources.
The stresses and pressures unleashed by emerging technologies, globalisation, and a rapidly growing knowledge economy, explored in more detail later, are impacting and forcing individuals and organisations to seek new ways to reinvent themselves not once but continually.
These observations appeared to harmonise with comments made by Standards Australia about the pressures and impacts in the knowledge process within Australia at the start of the 21st Century.

“Knowledge creation, transmission and use remain unstructured (and hence, informal and often unconscious processes). Decisions are often made without the benefit of the best knowledge available to an organisation. Knowledge is not reused or shared, meaning staff either continually reinvent the wheel or duplicate the efforts of others elsewhere in the organisation. People are overwhelmed with information that detracts from rather that adds to their ability to do their job (paradoxically, creating a situation where staff experience a simultaneous flood and drought of information). Knowledge hoarding by staff is common, and there is little organisational interest in the value of developing knowledge capacity among staff.”
(Standards Australia report International Best Practice:
Case Studies in Knowledge Management, 2001)

Like all evolutionary processes survival and adaptation are key. Evolving organisations need to be agile and work to ensure effective information and knowledge management systems are in place. “Agility will be a top challenge this year for all organizations,” stated Dr. James Canton (2013) of the Institute for Global Futures. “We are predicting that fast and disruptive changes will be both an opportunity for growth and competitive advantage as well as a great risk. Fast change, hyper-competition and explosive innovations may catch organizations unprepared,” Companies and jurisdictions will need to adapt, learn and navigate the social, economic and technological changes that are coming. Dr. Canton’s research indicates that: “Radical innovations will lead the key disruptions business will face this year. Many companies are not future-ready to meet the global challenges that will emerge.” (Canton 2013)

Human society, and possibly humanity itself, depends on its ability to think quickly, wisely, derive valuable thoughts, manage disruption and follow through on innovative insights consequent to creating and using knowledge, both individually and organisationally. It will be in our best interests to try and understand the impacts of the cultural and societal changes being felt in both the advanced nations and the emerging industrial societies on the knowledge acquisition process.

It is hard to ignore the specific role of the internet and changes in information technology caught up in this disruption and this thesis will examine these aspects and their effect on knowledge management but there are also many larger cultural changes that are impacting and should also be considered. Looking at any one focal or global change in isolation may miss synergistic opportunities in the search for solutions.

I hope to write more about knowledge over time, examining our past and current understanding of the nature of knowledge, its precursors in data and information and its impact in the formation of modern individual and organisational wisdom, the impact of the changes referred to above and, the consequential risks of information loss and degradation of information quality. I will explore the prospects of ultimately improving our knowledge and information management systems in this changing environment and make recommendations and suggest possible solutions to try and alleviate these growing risks.


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