The Data That Turned the World Upside Down – Motherboard

Our smartphone, Kosinski concluded, is a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously.

Above all, however—and this is key—it also works in reverse: not only can psychological profiles be created from your data, but your data can also be used the other way round to search for specific profiles: all anxious fathers, all angry introverts, for example—or maybe even all undecided Democrats? Essentially, what Kosinski had invented was sort of a people search engine. He started to recognize the potential—but also the inherent danger—of his work.

Many voices have claimed that the statisticians lost the election because their predictions were so off the mark. But what if statisticians in fact helped win the election—but only those who were using the new method? It is an irony of history that Trump, who often grumbled about scientific research, used a highly scientific approach in his campaign.

Another big winner is Cambridge Analytica. Its board member Steve Bannon, former executive chair of the right-wing online newspaper Breitbart News, has been appointed as Donald Trump’s senior counselor and chief strategist. Whilst Cambridge Analytica is not willing to comment on alleged ongoing talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Alexander Nix claims that he is building up his client base worldwide, and that he has received inquiries from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. His company is currently touring European conferences showcasing their success in the United States. This year three core countries of the EU are facing elections with resurgent populist parties: France, Holland and Germany. The electoral successes come at an opportune time, as the company is readying for a push into commercial advertising.

8 comments on “The Data That Turned the World Upside Down – Motherboard

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

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  1. Will do a full-fledged post introducing the new commenting format when it’s a little more tested and refined, and when I’ve decided on whether to incorporate two or three additional features. I think the linked article happens to be quite interesting in its own right, however – and from a side perspective follows up on a Twitter Colloquy from a few days ago – which, like most good ones, soon got overwhelmed with name-tags and hard to follow.

    This Commenting Beta features Ajaxed (near-real-time self-loading) comments, a standing inducement to keep things brief, comment shareability via Twitter, comment-up/down voting, and commenter ignore button, in-reply-to linking, comment subscriptions, comment-editing, and thread sorting.

    In addition to adding some social services, I expect to be integrating comment and commenter highlighting, comment snaking, commenter archives, comment formatting, comments-since-last-visit, and probably some other things I’ve forgotten.

  2. “near real time self loading”? My occasional insight and rhetorical success usually depends on taking my time – some times a lot of it. And, as you note in Extraordinary Comments “Comments that add as much to this site as the posts do”. Many of these, and other, more ordinary, but enjoyable comments and exchanges here are longish to quite long.

    And of course there’s the comments here I’ve written and didn’t post because I realized I hadn’t thought it through as much as I thought I had, or were not really how I wanted to represent myself.

    So I look t any effort to keep things brief as a bit of a loss. I suppose there’s a self loading time that strikes a balance. I look forward to the experiment.

    • I see you got “moderated” – wondering if it’s going to be a one-time thing – veteran commenters having to put up with moderation – or whether it’s a bug. What happens if you try commenting again?

    • Aktuelly, my fiendish plan is to keep the normal comments normal, but to continue to look for ways to narrow the gap between Twitter conditions and blog conditions, for a certain type of discussion. I would need a more expensive account than I wish to rent at this time to close it completely in terms of immediate gratification, but the idea is to get close enough for the kind of discussions that break out from time to time in the Twitterzone, but also make them accessible to people like you and me who actually prefer to keep things literary-like and to be able to go over 140 characters at will.

    • Plus another crappy thing about my description: “Near real-time auto-loading” might read like your is going right from you fingers into the void for all to see before you’re done with it. All the phrase really means or is meant to mean is that, while you’re reading or writing, OTHER people’s comments will be loaded without your having to refresh the page.

      It’s currently set at “polls every 30 seconds.” Going any faster imposes a load on the server, especially at a busy site. Alternatives include a message-link that alerts you to, for example, the existence of 3 new comments that you could load. You may have run across that approach elsewhere. Less resource-ravenous, but don’t have enough traffic here to worry about it, I don’t think.

  3. Thanks for all the clarifications.

    Yeah, not only am I a Twitter holdout but FB as well. Both Karen and Emma are on FB and get a lot out of it, but it sounds like the overload would outweigh any benefits for me.

    My guess yesterday when I saw the comment was in moderation was that the changes you’ve made inadvertently meant that having to re-enter my name etc, meant it went into moderation. In the past I’ve had to re-enter name etc if I hadn’t commented in some shortish period, but that did not mean it went into moderation.

    So let’s see…

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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