The United States is a pretty divided country; which may just feel like an inevitable product of our times. But it turns out there’s one partisan tool, in particular, that bears at least some of the blame. It’s something that is used behind closed doors, and that, thanks to the power of software and data, has turned into an ever more powerful partisan weapon. One that has now gone so far that some are saying it’s subverting democracy. And without any intervention, there’s no reason to think the situation will change for the better. Has our democracy crossed a line? And if it has, what is to be done?
Facing down yet another crisis, the U.S. census adopted a brand new kind of technology — and in doing so, brought forth a machine that would change the world.
At the birth of the United States, the new nation faced a problem. How do you make a crazy new idea — power coming not from a king, but from the people — a reality? There was no handbook; the framers of the Constitution had to just kind of make it up. They landed on the idea of a census. You count the people in each state, and apportion power thusly. A great idea, and certainly a totally new one. But also one that, over the centuries, led to a multitude of unforeseen crises. It turned out that, to keep representative democracy on the rails required some technical innovations — and led to the invention of a magnificent, and very significant, machine.