The Anti-Socialist Origins of Big Data

Source: The Nation

The New Yorker last week published an essay by Evgeny Morozov on socialist Chile’s fascinating Project Cybersyn. Cybersyn was short for cybernetics synergy, an attempt by Salvador Allende’s economic planners to create a state-of-the art information system that could rationalize economic decisions—a networked of linked telex machines with state-of-the-art software that would keep track of real-time economic indicators, availability of raw material, shortages, factory output, consumer demand and so on.

In was the early 1970s, and so at the center of the project was the “Operations Room,” designed by Gui Bonsiepe, a German industrial designer whose work, according to Morozov, inspired Steve Jobs. Here’s Morozov’s description: “it was a hexagonal space, thirty-three feet in diameter, accommodating seven white fiberglass swivel chairs with orange cushions and, on the walls, futurist screens. Tables and paper were banned.” It something like the deck of the USS Enterprise, from Star Trek, which had just ended its run the year before Allende’s 1970 election. “Four screens could show hundreds of pictures and figures at the touch of a button, delivering historical and statistical information about production—the Datafeed.”

Most of the program was meant to coordinate a command economy, and was to include programs to run stimulations of economic decisions: “before you set prices, established production quotas, or shifted petroleum allocations, you could see how your decisions would play out.”

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