While the State Department and CIA were quick to blame Russia for swaying the elections in favour of President Trump, little did they realise that software, working through data warehouses, had profiled every citizen of USA and was targeting select audiences according to their sensitivities. The result was that Republicans gained control of both houses and can affect policy shifts to the chagrin of Democrats who netted more votes but lost the elections. Trump’s campaign targeted primaries and that is where he won. USA has certainly leaned right and as detractors maintain becoming fascist and racist. The main explanation for this unexpected success is that using extremely advanced computational psychometric methods, the Republicans gambled on a ‘software startup’ that turned everything on its head. The Democrats were left aghast, looking for a scapegoat.

Trump’s campaign was scientific and effective. “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven,” says Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix. President Trump is computer illiterate and only recently begun to use a smart phone for his incessant tweets. Yet each message he sent had a different set of meaning for the targeted audience. While splashing it across select Facebook pages, each message was selectively tuned to the personality of the individual. As a result, more people turned out to vote.

The effect this created was exponential and against everyone’s expectations. President Trump had been candid about the methodology he was following when he tweeted, “Soon you’ll be calling me Mr. Brexit.” He had hired the same company that led the ‘Leave EU’ campaign and as an entrepreneur, he knew it had a high probability of success. His main weapon was personality based advertising which was far more effective and economical than the expensive TV advertising Democrats resorted to. As a result he empathised with his voters who made the difference.

It is only now that the story is unfolding. Motherboard.vice.com, an internet site has published an interesting research written by Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus of Zurich based Das Magazin. The caption is stirring and intriguing, ‘The Data That Turned the World Upside Down’. The spell binding research reveals how individuals using the internet, credit cards, e-commerce etc., are profiled with up to 85% accuracy, sometimes ever more than the closest or the individuals themselves know. But behind this success also lies a tale of intrigue and deceit.

For Cambridge Analytica this was not the first though certainly it was a watershed. The UK based company now has exclusive low budget offices in USA. Immediately after the elections, the company CEO Alexander James Ashburner Nix declared, “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President elect Trump’s extraordinary win.”

Earlier, the company had led the rightist campaign ‘Leave EU’ led by Nigel Farage that caused Brexit. The company specialises in innovative political marketing and micro targeting by measuring people’s personality from their digital footprints, based on the OCEAN model (acronym for openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism). With refinement, this big 5 has become the standard template for psychometrics and has been used for elections in Ukraine, Nigeria, Nepal, Eastern Europe and Afghanistan. As is evident from Brexit and Trump’s victory, it targets the instincts of individuals. These innate characteristics are like a double edged sword.

The psychometric template was not developed by Cambridge Analytica. Rather it was stolen by an assistant professor of the University of Cambridge Aleksandr Kogan who quit his job and now works in Singapore with the name of Dr Spectre. He sold the work of Polish Psychologist Michal Kosinski to a company that later evolved into Cambridge Analytica. Kosinki’s model was based on select Facebook accounts using the OCEAN model plus Big Data Analysis and advertisements through Facebook.

Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus write, “Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook ‘likes’ by a user, it was possible to predict their skin colour (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced. Kosinki’s research was so accurate that 70 likes were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 what their partner knew. More likes could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves.”

But the company’s ability of profiling individuals according to their character traits and sensitivities has had successful trajectories. Less than two years ago Ted Cruz was a mediocre candidate for the Republican nominations. By December 2015, Cruz was surging and won the Iowa caucuses, before dropping out of the race in May. Seeing the effectiveness, the company was hired for Trumps campaign for 15 million dollars.  According to Das Magazin, the startup came from the “secretive US software billionaire Robert Mercer who, along with his daughter Rebekah, is reported to be the largest investor in Cambridge Analytica”. Already, the company has been hired by the State Department and negotiating with Prime Minister Theresa May of UK.

The services provided by Cambridge Analytica (now registered in USA using its lax laws) were never surreptitious or illegal. The irony is that the Democrats were dismissive of this company they thought was led by a British Citizen who knew nothing about US demographics. But surely, not only Democrats but governments and political parties’ world over will now be keen to use this method for winning elections, perception management and surveys. Psychological warfare is most likely to reach new highs.

It is likely that as computational psychometric methods become more advanced and competitive; politics will shift to the beat of the heart. Democracy will start becoming more representative and even more lethal. The desires rather than logic will take precedence and international politics could take a new twist. For the time being it has ushered rightist trends from innate desires.

Pakistan is amongst the highest internet and smart phone densities of the world. Sooner or later companies such as these will be hired by political parties to mange election campaigns. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had made a head start at data collection through computational models right down to primaries. Knowing that computational psychometric analytics do not take orders from political aspirants and bypass party bureaucracy, detractors ensured that the party’s election commission was shut down. Yet there is no denying that the future lies herein. Imran Khan may live to regret his decision.