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If Then

How One Data Company Invented the Future

Jill Lepore

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John Murray
01 October 2020
Information technology industries
Silicon Valley likes to imagine it has no past but the scientists of Simulmatics are the long-dead grandfathers of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.

The Simulmatics Corporation, founded in 1959, mined data, targeted voters, accelerated news, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge--decades before Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Cambridge Analytica.

Borrowing from psychological warfare, they used computers to predict and direct human behavior, deploying their People Machine from New York, Cambridge, and Saigon for clients that included John Kennedy's presidential campaign, the New York Times, Young & Rubicam, and, during the Vietnam War, the Department of Defence. Jill Lepore, distinguished Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, unearthed from the archives the almost unbelievable story of this long-vanished corporation, and of the women hidden behind it.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Lepore argues, Simulmatics invented the future by building the machine in which the world now finds itself trapped and tormented, algorithm by algorithm.

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'Back in the 1960s, long before the denizens of Silicon Valley were infiltrating every facet of our lives, the smart men and women of The Simulmatics Corporation were creating algorithms to predict and even influence human behaviour. Jill Lepore reveals how this forgotten company invented the data-weapons of the future. If Then is simultaneously gripping and absolutely terrifying' Amanda Foreman

'An authoritative account of the origins of data science, a compelling political narrative of America in the Sixties, a poignant collective biography of a generation of flawed men - Jill Lepore's If, Then represents not only a stunning achievement in itself, but a stirring defence of the humanities in our techno-reductive age' David Kynaston

'A person can't help but feel inspired by the riveting intelligence and joyful curiosity of Jill Lepore. Knowing that there is a mind like hers in the world is a hope-inducing thing' George Saunders, Man Booker Prize winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo

'Jill Lepore is the pre-eminent historian of forgotten tales from America's past that throw startling light on the present. This brilliant book illuminates the future too. The story of the original data science hucksters of the 1960s is hilarious, scathing and sobering - what you might get if you crossed Mad Men with Theranos. It's a reminder, in the age of Cambridge Analytica and whatever comes next, that we have been here before and should know better.' David Runciman
By:   Jill Lepore
Imprint:   John Murray
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 38mm
Weight:   560g
ISBN:   9781529386165
ISBN 10:   1529386160
Pages:   432
Publication Date:   01 October 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her many books include The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a national bestseller, and Book of Ages, a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reviews for If Then: How One Data Company Invented the Future

It didn't all start with Facebook. We have long been fascinated with the potential of using computing technology to predict human behavior. In another fast-paced narrative, Jill Lepore brilliantly uncovers the history of the Simulmatics Corp, which launched the volatile mix of computing, politics and personal behavior that now divides our nation, feeds on private information, and weakens the strength our democratic institutions. If you want to know where this all started, you need not look any further--read this book! * Julian Zelizer * Think today's tech giants invented data mining and market manipulation? Think again. In this page-turning, eye-opening history, Jill Lepore reveals the Cold War roots of the tech-saturated present, in a thrilling tale that moves from the campaigns of Eisenhower and Kennedy to ivied think tanks, Madison Avenue ad firms, and the hamlets of Vietnam. Told with verve, grace, and humanity, If Then is an essential, sobering story for understanding our times * Margaret O'Mara, author of 'The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America' * Data science, Jill Lepore reminds us in this brilliant book, has a past, and she tells it through the engrossing story of Simulmatics, the tiny, long-forgotten company that helped invent our data-obsessed world, in which prediction is seemingly the only knowledge that matters. A captivating, deeply incisive work. * Frederik Logevall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author * Everything Lepore writes is distinguished by intelligence, eloquence, and fresh insight. If Then is that, and even more: It's absolutely fascinating, excavating a piece of little-known American corporate history that reveals a huge amount about the way we live today and the companies that define the modern era * Susan Orlean * A person can't help but feel inspired by the riveting intelligence and joyful curiosity of Jill Lepore. Knowing that there is a mind like hers in the world is a hope-inducing thing * George Saunders *


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