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Dr Matt Prescott @mattprescott
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In his blog, Mr Cummings says AIQ "once built some software" for Cambridge Analytica's parent company SCL, in 2014, but suggestions the company shared data with Cambridge Analytica were "ludicrous". bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politi…
Leave . EU's co-founder Arron Banks said: "Leave . EU did not receive any data or work from Cambridge Analytica. "UKIP did give Cambridge Analytica some of its data and Cambridge Analytica did some analysis of this.
"But it was not used in the Brexit campaign. Cambridge Analytica tried to make me pay for that work but I refused. It had nothing to do with us."
Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, who was filmed as part of a Channel 4 investigation giving examples of how the firm could swing elections around the world with underhand tactics such as smear campaigns and honey traps.
The company has offered to hand over all communications between its elections arm, SCL Elections Ltd, and a firm run by academic Dr Aleksandr Kogan by 5pm on Monday to the Information Commissioner, the High Court heard.
During the U.K.’s #Brexit campaign in 2016, Vote Leave hired #AIQ to place online ads, with #AggregateIQ paying for all 1,034 Facebook ads run by the campaign. fastcompany.com/90262252/ted-c…
AggregateIQ’s services were also retained to develop and administer a piece of software that Vote Leave executives, including chief technology officer and former SCL employee Thomas Borwick, later credited with a large portion of the campaign’s success.
Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings wrote an extensive blog post about the project, called the Voter Intention Collection System (VICS).
On the referendum #20: the campaign, physics and data science – Vote Leave’s ‘Voter Intention Collection System’ (VICS) now available for all
dominiccummings.com/2016/10/29/on-…
Almost all of Vote Leave’s digital communication and data science was invisible even if you read every single news story or column ever produced in the campaign or any of the books so far published (written pre-Shipman’s book).
Today we have made a software product available for download – Vote Leave’s ‘Voter Intention Collection System’ (VICS). It was named after Victoria Woodcock, Operations Director, known as Vics, who was the most indispensable person in the campaign.
If she’d gone under a bus, Remain would have won. When comparing many things in life the difference between average and best is say 30% but some people are 50 times more effective than others. She is one of them.
If she had been Cameron’s chief of staff instead of Llewellyn and Paul Stephenson had been director of communications instead of Oliver and he’d listened to them, then other things being equal Cameron would still be on the No10 sofa with a glass of red and a James Bond flick
Over and over again, those two – along with others, often very junior – saved us from the consequences of my mistakes and ignorance.
Among the many brilliant things Vics did was manage the creation of VICS.
When we started the campaign I had many meetings on the subject of canvassing software. Amazingly there was essentially no web-based canvassing software system for the UK that allowed live use and live monitoring.
Unfortunately, early on (summer 2015) Richard Murphy was hired to manage the ground campaign. He wanted to use an old rubbish system that assumed the internet did not exist.
This was one of the factors behind his departure and he decided to throw in his lot with Farage et al. He then inflicted this rubbish system on Grassroots Out which is one of the reasons why it was an organisational/management disaster and let down its volunteers.
After Vote Leave won the official designation, many GO activists defected, against official instructions from Farage, and plugged into VICS.
Once Murphy was replaced by Stephen Parkinson (now in No10) and Nick Varley, the ground campaign took off.
We created new software. This was a gamble but the whole campaign was a huge gamble and we had to take many calculated risks. One of our central ideas was that the campaign had to do things in the field of data that have never been done before.
This included a) integrating data from social media, online advertising, websites, apps, canvassing, direct mail, polls, online fundraising, activist feedback, and some new things we tried such as a new way to do polling (about which I will write another time).... #Brexit
.... and b) having experts in physics and machine learning do proper data science in the way only they can – i.e. far beyond the normal skills applied in political campaigns. #Brexit
We were the 1st campaign in the UK to put almost all our money into digital communication then have it partly controlled by people whose normal work was subjects like quantum information combined with political input from Paul Stephenson & Henry de Zoete & digital specialists AIQ
We could only do this properly if we had proper canvassing software. We built it partly in-house and partly using an external engineer who we sat in our office for months.
... we had to build everything from scratch without even the money to buy standard commercial databases (we found ways to scrape equivalents off the web saving hundreds of thousands of pounds).
Physics, mathematics, and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting which satisfies neither of the necessary conditions :
– 1) enough structure in the information to enable good predictions, 2) conditions for good fast feedback and learning.
Vote Leave paid very close attention to real experts. (The theoretical physicist Steve Hsu has a great blog HERE which often has stuff on this theme, e.g. HERE.)
They saved me from many bad decisions even though they had zero experience in politics and they forced me to change how I made important decisions like what got what money.
Charlie Munger is one half of the most successful investment partnership in world history [NOTE the other half is Warren Buffett]. He advises people – hire physicists.
(One of the many ways in which Whitehall and Downing Street should be revolutionised is to integrate physicist-dominated data science in decision-making.
Leaving the EU also requires the destruction of the normal Whitehall/Downing Street system and the development of new methods. A dysfunctional broken system is hardly likely to achieve the most complex UK government project since beating Nazi Germany...
In 2015 they said to me: ‘If the polls average 50-50 at the end you will win because of differential turnout and even if the average is slightly behind you could easily win because all the pollsters live in London and hang out with people who will vote IN...
.... and can’t imagine you winning so they might easily tweak their polls in a way they think is making them more accurate but is actually fooling themselves and everybody else.’
VICS allows data to be input centrally (the electoral roll, which in the UK is a nightmare to gather from all the LAs) and then managed at a local level, whether that be at street level, constituency or wider areas.
Security levels can be set centrally to ensure that no-one can access the whole database. During the campaign we used VICS to upload data models which predicted where we thought Leave voters were likely to be so that we could focus our canvassing efforts...
Data flowed in on the ground and was then analysed by the data science team and integrated with all the other data streaming in.
VICS was not only useful to the ground campaign but also helped improve the models used for other things. (This was the point of our £50 million prize for predicting the results of the European football championships, which gathered data from people who usually ignore politics
In the official 10 week campaign we served about one billion targeted digital adverts, mostly via Facebook and strongly weighted to the period around postal voting and the last 10 days of the campaign.
We ran many different versions of ads, tested them, dropped the less effective and reinforced the most effective in a constant iterative process. [NOTE similar to Brad Parscale's PROJECT ALAMO social media ad targeting for Trump]
We combined this feedback with polls (conventional and unconventional) and focus groups to get an overall sense of what was getting through.
The models honed by VICS also were used to produce dozens of different versions of the referendum address (46 million leaflets) and we tweaked the language and look according to the most reliable experiments done in the world
(e.g. hence our very plain unbranded ‘The Facts’ leaflet which the other side tested, found very effective, and tried to copy).
There was also a big disinformation campaign by Farage’s gang, including Bone and Pursglove, who told the media ‘Vote Leave has no interest in the ground campaign’. This was the opposite of the truth.
When Farage came to see me for the last time (as always fixated only on his role in the debates and not the actual campaign which he was sure was lost) he said that he had 7,000 activists who actually did anything. He was stunned when I said that we had over 12,000.
I think Farage et al believe their own spin on this subject and were deluded not lying. (Obviously there was a lot of overlap between these two figures.) These volunteers delivered about 70 million leaflets out of a total ~125 million that were delivered one way or another.
While there were some fantastic MPs who made huge efforts on the ground – e.g. Anne Marie Trevelyan – it was interesting how many MPs, nominally very committed to Leave, did nothing useful in their areas nor had any interest in ground campaigning and data.
Because so many of them proved untrustworthy and leaked everything I kept the data science team far from prying eyes – when in the office, if asked what they did they replied ‘oh I’m just a junior web guy’.
VICS is the first of its kind in the UK and provided new opportunities. It is, of course, far from ideal. It was developed very quickly, we had to cut many corners, and it could be improved on.
This was also because we solved the hardware problem by giving it to Rackspace which did a great job – they have a system that allows automatic scaling depending on the demand so you don’t have to worry about big surges overwhelming the system.
Our biggest obstacle was not the IN campaign and its vast resources but the appalling infighting on our own side driven by all the normal human motivations described in Thucydides – fear, interest, the pursuit of glory and so on.
A basic problem for people in politics is that approximately none have the hard skills necessary to distinguish great people from charlatans. It was therefore great good fortune that I was friends with our team before the campaign started.
During the campaign many thousands of people donated to Vote Leave. They paid for VICS. Given we spent a lot of money developing it and there is nothing equivalent available on the market and Vote Leave is no more (barring a very improbable event)...
... we thought that we would make VICS available for anybody to use and improve though strictly on the basis that nobody can claim any intellectual property rights over it.
It is being made available in the spirit of the open source movement and use of it should be openly acknowledged. @VickerySec
NOTE: Thomas Borwick, Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave, VICS, Brad Parscale, Project Alamo, AggregateIQ, Cambridge Analytica, SCL, Museum of Communist Terror beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/109704…
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