Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile

Eden Medina

Language: English

Publisher: MIT Press

Published: Oct 28, 2011


In Cybernetic Revolutionaries, Eden Medina tells the history of two intersecting utopian visions, one political and one technological. The first was Chile's experiment with peaceful socialist change under Salvador Allende; the second was the simultaneous attempt to build a computer system that would manage Chile's economy. Neither vision was fully realized -- Allende's government ended with a violent military coup; the system, known as Project Cybersyn, was never completely implemented -- but they hold lessons for today about the relationship between technology and politics.Drawing on extensive archival material and interviews, Medina examines the cybernetic system envisioned by the Chilean government -- which was to feature holistic system design, decentralized management, human-computer interaction, a national telex network, near real-time control of the growing industrial sector, and modeling the behavior of dynamic systems. She also describes, and documents with photographs, the network's Star Trek-like operations room, which featured swivel chairs with armrest control panels, a wall of screens displaying data, and flashing red lights to indicate economic emergencies.Studying project Cybersyn today helps us understand not only the technological ambitions of a government in the midst of political change but also the limitations of the Chilean revolution. This history further shows how human attempts to combine the political and the technological with the goal of creating a more just society can open new technological, intellectual, and political possibilities. Technologies, Medina writes, are historical texts; when we read them we are reading history.



Cybernetic Revolutionaries is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of cybernetics or the intersection of computer technology and politics.

(Howard Rheingold, critic and author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution)

This wonderful book explores cybernetics in Allende's Chile. In so doing, it blends social and technical issues with large scale economic planning and the dynamic politics of the time. It is a must-read for anyone interested in this era, and for anyone interested in the incorporation of science and technology studies into historical and political discourse.

(Geoffrey C. Bowker, Professor and Senior Scholar in Cyberscholarship, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh)

Though we forget it at our peril, cybernetics has always been a science of control as well as communication. Medina's riveting history returns us to a moment when computers promised to liberate an entire nation. It reminds us just how appealing a cybernetic utopia can be, and how impossible to achieve.

(Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism)

...Medina has written a wonderful, accessible book, a thorough examination of a project that generally serves as an enigmatic aside in other histories. At times it's quite a romp, as befits a story with an extraordinary character like Beer at its heart. And it's a splendid introduction to Beer's thoughts, his ideals and the history of cybernetics.

(Icon Magazine)

This is indispensable reading for historians of Latin America and historians of technology alike.

(Suzanne Moone American Historical Review)

About the Author

Eden Medina is Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington and the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile. She received the IEEE Life Member's Prize in Electrical History in 2007 for her work on Chile's experiments with cybernetics and socialism.