It would be difficult to argue against Stafford Beer’s Project Cybersyn as the most bold and audacious chapter in the history of cybernetics. In the early 70’s, at the invitation of leftist president, Salvador Allende, the “father of management cybernetics” (as Norbert Wiener christened Beer) attempted nothing less than the development and implementation of a cybernetic governance system for Chile’s nationalized economy. For decades, we have relied solely on the writings of Beer and his associates for accounts of this amazing techno-political adventure but, thanks to Eden Medina
’s Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile
, from the MIT press (originally published in 2011 and out in softcover in 2014), we now have a deeply researched scholarly investigation of this extraordinary historical moment in which Beer’s cybernetic Viable System Model was positioned as a tool to enable radical socialist transformation while remaining within Chile’s constitutional democratic framework. Medina deftly guides us through this astonishing odyssey as the utopian visionary Beer and his brilliant and inspired team of local collaborators, facing an invisible US led economic and technological blockade, craft a real-time communications network stretching the entire length of Chile out of two mainframe computers and a warehouse full of unused telex machines and which proves its mettle in response to a wildly disruptive US funded national truck drivers strike. Along the way, we meet a colorful cast of characters including doctor turned Marxist lightning rod, Salvador Allende, wily young political operator and future Silicon valley innovator, Fernando Flores, and of course, the wildly charismatic business guru turned leftist, new age quasi-mystic, Stafford Beer; all wrestling with the struggle to keep their emancipatory egalitarian project of distributed decision making and control from tipping over into centralized technocracy as the entire Chilean socialist project teeters towards its brutal and tragic ending. Seamlessly blending compelling storytelling and astute technological, political, and cultural analysis, Medina’s book stands as a penetrating look at an under-theorized political experiment and a detailed summary of its still hotly debated legacy.