If Then: Jill Lepore with Martine Powers
Where: New York Public Library—Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Ave.
917-275-6975 Price: Free
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The New Yorker staff writer and author of These Truths divines the origins of our data-driven madness.
Decades before Facebook, Google, or Cambridge Analytica, there was the Simulmatics Corporation. Founded in 1959 by some of the nation’s leading social scientists, Simulmatics proposed to predict and manipulate the future by creating computer simulations of human behavior. Their “People Machine” aimed to model everything from buying a dishwasher to counterinsurgency to casting a vote, and it was deployed in situations ranging from presidential elections to the Vietnam War. Exposed for false claims, and even accused of war crimes, it closed its doors in 1970 and all but vanished. Until Lepore came across the records of its remains.
The scientists of Simulmatics believed they had invented “the A-bomb of the social sciences.” That bomb finally detonated in the early years of the 21st century, creating a world in which corporations collect data and model behavior and target messages about the most ordinary of decisions. Jill Lepore joins LIVE from NYPL to discuss with Martine Powers her cautionary tale about our present moment.
LIVE from NYPL is made possible by the support of Library patrons and friends, as well as by the continuing generosity of Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos, and the Margaret and Herman Sokol Public Education Endowment Fund.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of History at Harvard University and is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, her many books include the international bestseller These Truths and This America.
Martine Powers is the host of “Post Reports,” the flagship daily news podcast at The Washington Post. She has worked at The Post since 2016, where she began her career as a reporter on the Metro desk. Before The Post, Powers worked at The Boston Globe and Politico. Powers is also an audio producer and graduate of the Transom Story Workshop for audio journalism.Buy tickets/get more info now