if then [reading a book self-review]

Nature of 17 September 2020 has a somewhat surprising comment section where an author, Jill Lepore from Harvard University, actually summarises her own book, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation invented the Future. This book is the (hi)story of a precursor of Big Data Analytics, Simulmatics, which used as early as 1959 clustering and simulation to predict election results and if possible figure out discriminant variables. Which apparently contributed to John F. Kennedy’ s victory over Richard Nixon in 1960. Rather than admiring the analytic abilities of such precursors (!), the author is blaming them for election interference. A criticism that could apply to any kind of polling, properly or improperly conducted. The article also describes how Simulmatics went into advertising, econometrics and counter-insurgency, vainly trying to predict the occurence and location of riots (at home) and revolutions (abroad). And argues in a all-encompassing critique against any form of data-analytics applied to human behaviour. And praises the wisdom of 1968 protesters over current Silicon Valley researchers (whose bosses may have been among these 1968 protesters!)… (Stressing again that my comments come from reading and reacting to the above Nature article, not the book itself!)

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