Information Manipulation: A Rich Tradition

September 21, 2020

Scientists Use Big Data to Sway Elections and Predict Riots — Welcome to the 1960s” is an interesting write up. The essay begins with a quote from a high profile Xoogler, Anthony Levandowski. He’s the engineer who allegedly found information in his possession which was not supposed be in his possession. Things just happen, of course. The quote in the write up reminded me that Sillycon Valley in an interesting place.

The point of the write up is to romp through information manipulations related to elections in the US. One company — Simulmatics — applied systems and methods refined by other experts. I am not comfortable naming these people because it is 2020. Proper nouns can be tricky business.

The write up asserts:

The press called Simulmatics scientists the “What-If Men”, because their work — programming an IBM 704 — was based on endless what-if simulations. The IBM 704 was billed as the first mass-produced computer capable of doing complex mathematics. Today, this kind of work is much vaunted and lavishly funded. The 2018 Encyclopedia of Database Systems describes ‘what-if analysis’ as “a data-intensive simulation”. It refers to it as “a relatively recent discipline”. Not so.

The “not so” nails down the obvious. Information manipulation has been around for more years than Silicon Valley’s luminaries have been reshaping the world with digital services.

This quote warranted a check mark:

Although none of the researchers he had met “had malignant political designs on the American public”, Burdick warned, their very lack of interest in contemplating the possible consequences of their work stood as a terrible danger. Indeed, they might “radically reconstruct the American political system, build a new politics, and even modify revered and venerable American institutions — facts of which they are blissfully innocent”.

Yep, Sumulmatics. The other thought the write up evoked is, “When and to what does one pay attention?” Thumbtypers, what do you think?

Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2020


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