Computers and socialism

Project Cybersyn was a Chilean project from 1971–1973 during the presidency of Salvador Allende aimed at constructing a distributed decision support system to aid in the management of the national economy. The project consisted of four modules: an economic simulator, custom software to check factory performance, an operations room, and a national network of telex machines that were linked to one mainframe computer.

Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics
(MIT Press, 2002)

The history of Soviet cybernetics followed a curious arc. In the 1950s it was labeled a reactionary pseudoscience and a weapon of imperialist ideology.

[Psychologist Mikhail Iaroshevskii against cybernetics originator Norbert Wiener:]

“accused Wiener of reducing human thought to formal operations with signs, and labeled cybernetics a “modish pseudo-theory” fabricated by “philosophizing ignoramuses” and “utterly hostile to the people and to science.” He went on to cite Wiener’s well-known remark that the computer revolution was “bound to devalue the human brain” in the same way that the industrial revolution had devalued the human arm. While Wiener meant his comment to be a liberal critique of capitalism, and called on having “a society based on human values other than buying and selling,” Iaroshevskii apparently interpreted it as a misanthropic escapade. “From this fantastic idea,” he wrote, “semanticists-cannibals derive the conclusion that a larger part of humanity must be exterminated.”

Then, the story goes, the USSR falls in love with computers, puts them to work processing economic data. Bureaucratic dysfunction prevents the outputs of such processing to support good decision-making. Then it collapses.

Wonder if much of the early Soviet anti-cybernetics stuff is translated.

2 thoughts on “Computers and socialism

  1. Being a woman in programming in the Soviet Union

    In the United States, it is more male-dominated. In Russia as I was starting my professional life, it was considered more of a female occupation. In both programs I studied , girls represented 100% of the class. Guys would go for something that was considered more masculine. These choices included majors like construction engineering and mechanical engineering.


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