It’s a big election year, and one party’s candidate is the successor to a popular two-term president. A little-known company offers the other party, which is in disarray, technology that uses vast amounts of data to profile voters. The election is incredibly close — and the longshot candidate wins.
This was 1960, not 2016, and the winning ticket was John F. Kennedy, not Donald Trump.
The little-known — and now nearly entirely forgotten — company was called Simulmatics, the subject of Harvard historian and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore’s timely new book, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.
Before Cambridge Analytica, before Facebook, before the Internet, there was Simulmatics’ “People Machine,” in Lepore’s telling:
“A computer program designed to predict and manipulate human behavior, all sorts of human behavior, from buying a dishwasher to countering an insurgency to casting a vote.”
Lepore unearths Simulmatics’ story and makes the…