If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future

Written by:
Jill Lepore
Narrated by:
Jill Lepore

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
September 2020
10 hours 39 minutes
The Simulmatics Corporation, launched during the Cold War, mined data, targeted voters, manipulated consumers, destabilized
politics, and disordered knowledge—decades before Facebook, Google, and Cambridge Analytica. Jill Lepore, best-selling author of
These Truths, came across the company’s papers in MIT’s archives and set out to tell this forgotten history, the long-lost backstory
to the methods, and the arrogance, of Silicon Valley.

Founded in 1959 by some of the nation’s leading social scientists—“the best and the brightest, fatally brilliant, Icaruses with
wings of feathers and wax, flying to the sun”—Simulmatics proposed to predict and manipulate the future by way of the computer
simulation of human behavior. In summers, with their wives and children in tow, the company’s scientists met on the beach in Long
Island under a geodesic, honeycombed dome, where they built a “People Machine” that aimed to model everything from buying a
dishwasher to counterinsurgency to casting a vote.

Deploying their “People Machine” from New York, Washington, Cambridge, and even Saigon, Simulmatics’ clients included
the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign, the New York Times, the Department of Defense, and dozens of major manufacturers:
Simulmatics had a hand in everything from political races to the Vietnam War to the Johnson administration’s ill-fated attempt to
predict race riots. The company’s collapse was almost as rapid as its ascent, a collapse that involved failed marriages, a suspicious
death, and bankruptcy. 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.” They did not predict that it
would take decades to detonate, like a long-buried grenade. But, in the early years of the twenty-first century, that bomb did
detonate, creating a world in which corporations collect data and model behavior and target messages about the most ordinary of
decisions, leaving people across the planet, long before the global pandemic, crushed by feelings of helplessness. This history has a
past; If Then is its cautionary tale
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Eric C.

This would be more interesting with another narrator...

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Vasilije S.

Narration was so bad, it makes the book unenjoyable.

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Renny L.

Really interesting book. It does feel like it diverges at times, but overall it was interesting to learn about history of a company that started a lot what is very common these days. It would have been interesting to have also more discussion on the current state of things.

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Dorothy T.

I very much appreciated this book. I found it very helpful to learn the history, a history I have lived through, behind the data driven reality by which we are currently being controlled. I have read much of Jill Lapore's writing and appreciate her approach to cultural history.

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