J. Christian Adams discussion of the Obama political machine’s CATALIST database provides a peek into “Big Data” as applied to politics. Mr. Adams gives an example of how CATALIST, which collects, collates and analyzes data on a vast scale can be used as a political marketing tool. He tells the story of voters who should have been “safe” Republican voters being lured away by this new tool.
During the 2012 election, a producer for a conservative news network received a knock at his door in a key swing state. Two neighbors were standing on his stoop campaigning for Obama. They weren’t there to talk to him — they were there to talk to his wife. They knew that she was employed in a profession which the Obama campaign had decided to microtarget: folks who deliver services to special needs children. The two neighbors were already armed with this personalized information. The Obama campaign didn’t just send a direct mail piece to the target or make a telephone call. Instead, the campaign matched a microtargeted demographic (special needs service providers) with a highly motivated Obama volunteer in close neighborly proximity to the target. Then they armed the neighbor/volunteer with data to visit the target.
Obama’s canvassers “know” you — knew the voters above — perhaps better than you know yourself. Big Data can do this. From that point you are dumped into the classic marketing funnel. You’re a lead and they close the voting sale.
You’re not talking to a canvasser, you’re talking to a friend.
Mr. Adams notes that CATALIST is able to gnaw into moderate voting blocs who would otherwise be Republican because such voters normally vote by brand, using as values and social attitudes as a rough guide. CATALIST is able to trump those signals by making a specific pitch to the individual’s interests. It can micro-sell in ways that overcomes the general brand preference. Thus, in the example above, they were able to appeal to a potential Republican voter’s interest in special needs children.
Note that the canvassers didn’t actually “know” anything about the couple. In fact, these canvassers may be quite ignorant in themselves. They are just human mouths for the application. Speaking of which, you may be surprised to learn that CATALIST doesn’t “know” anything either. It is ignorant itself, simply using sophisticated, AI-related algorithms to predict what you will like to hear, not from sentience in the human sense, but in the same way that your Google search bar can predict what letter or phrase you will type next when you are researching something.
It “understands” you, but only the way a cool, unsympathetic and detached Martian mind might.
Big Data is used to create a “magic mirror” in which a voter sees exactly what he wants to see. Obama’s field workers are effectively transformed, through the magical scripts sent to their tablets, into shape-shifters who become exactly what you want them to become. The flip side of this is the promises they utter are generated the same way, whether they are substantively real or not. There’s probably a database of “government programs” any of which can be made to sound like your dream come true.
The Obama campaign moves on two narrative levels. The public narrative are the promises he makes in big speeches from behind a teleprompter, which itself is driven by polling. That stuff is projected through the media. The micro, pervasive narrative consists of all the little promises his people make to voters sitting in their stoops or opening the front door, or at little community meetings. That is delivered under the radar.
One property of such automated systems is that Obama may not even know what he is promising, any more than Sergei Brin may be aware of what the predictive algorithm is suggesting on your Google Search Bar. That’s generated by the Big Data application. One of the Achilles heels of this Obama governance is that he is always leading from behind the cloud front of his idiot-savant demagogic application.
The ultimate goal of the president’s political program is to retain power. For what purpose is it governing? Please hold while they ask CATALIST. In some way president Obama is like a reverse Mechanical Turk.
The Turk, also known as the Mechanical Turk or Automaton Chess Player (German: Schachtürke, “chess Turk”‘ Hungarian: A Török), was a fake chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century. From 1770 until its destruction by fire in 1854, it was exhibited by various owners as an automaton, though it was exposed in the early 1820s as an elaborate hoax. Constructed and unveiled in 1770 by Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734–1804) to impress the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the mechanism appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent, as well as perform the knight’s tour, a puzzle that requires the player to move a knight to occupy every square of a chessboard exactly once.
The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master hiding inside to operate the machine. With a skilled operator, the Turk won most of the games played during its demonstrations around Europe and the Americas for nearly 84 years, playing and defeating many challengers including statesmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. The operator(s) within the mechanism during Kempelen’s original tour remains a mystery. When the device was later purchased in 1804 and exhibited by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, the chess masters who secretly operated it included Johann Allgaier, Boncourt, Aaron Alexandre, William Lewis, Jacques Mouret, and William Schlumberger.
In this case however, there is no man inside the automaton. The reverse occurs, in which there is an automaton inside the man.
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