Benjamin PetersJul 16, 2016
How Not to Network a Nation
The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet
MIT Press 2016
Something we might think of as the Soviet internet once existed, according to Benjamin Peters' new book, and its failure was neither natural nor inevitable. How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (MIT Press, 2016) traces the history of early efforts to network the Soviet state, from the global spread of cybernetics in the middle of the 20th century (paying careful attention to the different ways that cybernetic thought was articulated in different international settings) to the undoing of the All-State Automated System (OGAS) between 1970-1989. The book argues that the primary reason that the Soviets struggled to network their nation rests on the institutional conditions supporting the scientific knowledge base and the command economy. In developing this argument, Peters guides readers through a story about economic cybernetics, the relationships between military and civilian sectors of Soviet society, computer networks as metaphors for brains or bodies, saxophone-playing robots, fake passports to fake countries, computer chess, and much more. The conclusion of the book also considers some of the implications of the Soviet experience for rethinking our current networked world.