John Murray is publishing a book about the "hidden history" of data science by Jill Lepore, a New Yorker writer and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Out 17th September 2020 in hardback, audiobook and e-book, If Then: How One Data Company Invented the Future was acquired in a deal for UK and Commonwealth rights, struck between Joe Zigmond, senior commissioning editor at John Murray, and Fiona Baird at WME. The book is the second of a two-book deal; last year John Murray published This America: The Case for the Nation, a brief polemical history of nationalism, from the same author.
If Then looks at the Simulmatics Corporation, which was founded in 1959, and how it harvested data, targeted voters, stirred up news, manipulated consumers and destabilised politics. It also seeks to show how the world we experience online today derives from the first weaponisation of data.
Zigmond commented: "If Then is the story of how data science was born – and so shines a totally new light on the history of tech, politics and the Cold War. Jill Lepore is one of America’s greatest living historians, and here she excavates an extraordinary corporate history that managed to shape the modern world in which prediction is king. Addictively paced, unmistakably topical and devastatingly sharp, the implications of this book are big enough to make themselves heard in any time."
Lepore said: "Google, Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Palantir: they act like they invented everything. But they didn’t. Much of what these corporations do was done before, and long ago. Asking myself, “How did it come to this?”, I went to the archives and found the crazy, improbable story of the Simulmatics Corporation, whose scientists tried to build a computer program that could simulate human behavior—in order to direct human behavior. No one stopped them. And if that kind of thing is going to be stopped these days, it’s important to know how it started."
This month Lepore launches a new podcast series, "The Last Archive", produced by Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg’s Pushkin Industries. Each podcast episode explores a different historical situation related to seeking truth — from a presidential election to the invention of the lie detector. The final episode of the podcast will explore the subject of If Then.