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+[[!meta title="Cybernetic Revolutionaries"]]
+* [Cybernetic Revolutionaries | Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile](http://www.cyberneticrevolutionaries.com/).
+* [Cybernetic Revolutionaries | The MIT Press](https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cybernetic-revolutionaries).
+* Further references [here](https://links.fluxo.info/tags/cybersyn).
+## General
+* Diagram of The Class War as a homeostatic system, 200.
+## Control and descentralization
+ Beer’s writings on management cybernetics differed from the contemporaneous
+ work taking place in the U.S. military and think tanks such as RAND that led to the de-
+ velopment of computer systems for top- down command and control. From the 1950s
+ onward, Beer had drawn from his understanding of the human nervous system to
+ propose a form of management that allowed businesses to adapt quickly to a changing
+ environment. A major theme in Beer’s writings was finding a balance between central-
+ ized and decentralized control, and in particular how to ensure the stability of the
+ entire firm without sacrificing the autonomy of its component parts.
+ Similarly, the Popular Unity government confronted the challenge of how to imple-
+ ment substantial social, political, and economic changes without sacrificing Chile’s
+ preexisting constitutional framework of democracy. A distinguishing feature of Chile’s
+ socialist process was the determination to expand the reach of the state without sac-
+ rificing the nation’s existing civil liberties and democratic institutions. Both Beer and
+ Popular Unity were thus deeply interested in ways of maintaining organizational
+ stability in the context of change and finding a balance between autonomy and
+ cohesion.
+ -- 16
+## Adaptive Control
+ The idea of control is commonly associated with domination. Beer offered a different
+ definition: he defined control as self- regulation, or the ability of a system to adapt to
+ internal and external changes and survive. This alternative approach to control re-
+ sulted in multiple misunderstandings of Beer’s work, and he was repeatedly criticized
+ for using computers to create top- down control systems that his detractors equated
+ with authoritarianism and the loss of individual freedom. Such criticisms extended to
+ the design of Project Cybersyn, but, as this book illustrates, they were to some extent
+ ill- informed. To fully grasp how Beer approached the control problem requires a brief
+ introduction to his cybernetic vocabulary.
+ Beer was primarily concerned with the study of “exceedingly complex systems,”
+ or “systems so involved that they are indescribable in detail.” 52 He contrasted exceed-
+ ingly complex systems with simple but dynamic systems such as a window catch,
+ which has few components and interconnections, and complex systems, which have a
+ greater number of components and connections but can be described in considerable
+ detail
+ [...]
+ In Beer’s opinion, traditional science did a good job of handling simple and complex
+ systems but fell short in its ability to describe, let alone regulate, exceedingly complex
+ systems. Cybernetics, Beer argued, could provide tools for understanding and control-
+ ling these exceedingly complex systems and help these systems adapt to problems
+ yet unknown. The trick was to “black- box” parts of the system without losing the key
+ characteristics of the original. 53
+ The idea of the black box originated in electrical engineering and referred to a sealed
+ box whose contents are hidden but that can receive an electrical input and whose
+ output the engineer can observe. By varying the input and observing the output, the
+ engineer can discern something about the contents of the box without ever seeing its
+ inner workings. Black- boxing parts of an exceedingly complex system preserved the
+ behavior of the original but did not require the observer to create an exact representa-
+ tion of how the system worked. Beer believed that it is possible to regulate exceedingly
+ complex systems without fully understanding their inner workings, asserting, “It is not
+ necessary to enter the black box to understand the nature of the function it performs”
+ or to grasp the range of the subsystem’s behaviors. 54 In other words, it is more impor-
+ tant to grasp what things do than to understand fully how they work. To regulate the
+ behavior of such a system requires a regulator that has as much flexibility as the system
+ it wishes to control and that can respond to and regulate all behaviors of subsystems
+ that have been black- boxed.
+ [...]
+ Controlling an exceedingly complex system with high variety therefore requires a
+ regulator that can react to and govern every one of these potential states, or, to put
+ it another way, respond to the variety of the system. “Often one hears the optimistic
+ demand: ‘give me a simple control system; one that cannot go wrong,’ ” Beer writes.
+ “The trouble with such ‘simple’ controls is that they have insufficient variety to cope
+ with the variety in the environment. . . . Only variety in the control mechanism can
+ deal successfully with variety in the system controlled.” 56 This last observation—that
+ only variety can control variety—is the essence of Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety and
+ a fundamental principle in Beer’s cybernetic work. 57
+ The Law of Requisite Variety makes intuitive sense: it is impossible to truly control
+ another unless you can respond to all attempts at subversion. This makes it extremely
+ difficult, if not impossible, to control an exceedingly complex system if control is de-
+ fined as domination. History is filled with instances of human beings’ trying to exert
+ control over nature, biology, and other human beings—efforts that have failed because
+ of their limited variety. Many of the most powerful medicines cannot adapt to all per-
+ mutations of a disease. Recent work in the sociology of science has positioned Beer’s
+ idea of control in contrast to the modernist ethos of many science and engineering
+ endeavors, which have sought to govern ecosystems, bodily functions, and natural
+ topographies. Despite the many successes associated with such projects, these efforts
+ at control still have unexpected, and sometimes undesirable, results. 58
+ Beer challenged the common definition of control as domination, which he viewed
+ as authoritarian and oppressive and therefore undesirable. It was also “naïve, primi-
+ tive and ridden with an almost retributive idea of causality.” What people viewed as
+ control, Beer continued, was nothing more than “a crude process of coercion,” an
+ observation that emphasized the individual agency of the entity being controlled. 59
+ Instead of using science to dominate the outside world, scientists should focus on
+ identifying the equilibrium conditions among subsystems and developing regulators
+ to help the overall system reach its natural state of stability. Beer emphasized creating
+ lateral communication channels among the different subsystems so that the changes in
+ one subsystem could be absorbed by changes in the others. 60 This approach, he argued,
+ took advantage of the flexibility of each subsystem. Instead of creating a regulator to fix
+ the behavior of each subsystem, he found ways to couple subsystems together so that
+ they could respond to each other and adapt. Such adaptive couplings helped maintain
+ the stability of the overall system.
+ Beer called the natural state of system stability homeostasis . 61 The term refers to the
+ ability of a system to withstand disturbances in its external environment through its
+ own dynamic self- regulation, such as that achieved by coupling subsystems to one
+ another. Beer argued that reaching homeostasis is crucial to the survival of any system,
+ whether it is mechanical, biological, or social. Control through homeostasis rather
+ than through domination gives the system greater flexibility and facilitated adaptation,
+ Beer argued. He therefore proposed an alternative idea of control, which he defined
+ as “a homeostatic machine for regulating itself.” 62 In a 1969 speech before the United
+ Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization, Beer stated that the “sensible
+ course for the manager is not to try to change the system’s internal behavior . . . but to
+ change its structure —so that its natural systemic behavior becomes different. All of this
+ says that management is not so much part of the system managed as it is the system’s
+ own designer.” 63 In other words, cybernetic management as described by Beer looked
+ for ways to redesign the structure of a company or state enterprise so that it would
+ naturally tend toward stability and the desired behavior.
+ In addition, cybernetic management sought to create a balance between horizontal
+ and vertical forms of communication and control. Because changes in one subsystem
+ could be absorbed and adapted to by changes in others (via lateral communication),
+ each subsystem retained the ability to change its behavior, within certain limits, with-
+ out threatening the overall stability of the system and could do so without direction
+ from the vertical chain of command. To look at it another way, cybernetic manage-
+ ment approached the control problem in a way that preserved a degree of freedom and
+ autonomy for the parts without sacrificing the stability of the whole.
+ The first edition of Beer’s 1959 book Cybernetics and Management did not make many
+ -- 26-29
+## The Liberty Machine
+ The Liberty Machine modeled a sociotechnical system that functioned as a dis-
+ seminated network, not a hierarchy; it treated information, not authority, as the basis
+ for action, and operated in close to real time to facilitate instant decision making and
+ eschew bureaucratic protocols. Beer contended that this design promoted action over
+ bureaucratic practice and prevented top- down tyranny by creating a distributed net-
+ work of shared information. The Liberty Machine distributed decision making across
+ different government offices, but it also required all subordinate offices to limit their
+ actions so as not to threaten the survival of the overall organization, in this case, a gov-
+ ernment. The Liberty Machine thus achieved the balance between centralized control
+ and individual freedom that had characterized Beer’s earlier work.
+ [...]
+ Beer posited that such a Liberty Machine could create a government where “com-
+ petent information is free to act,” meaning that once government officials become
+ aware of a problem, they could address it quickly; expert knowledge, not bureaucratic
+ politics, would guide policy. However, Beer did not critically explore what constitutes
+ “competent information” or how cybernetics might resolve disagreements within the
+ scientific community or within other communities of expertise. Moreover, it is not
+ clear how he separated bureaucracy from a system of checks and balances that might
+ slow action but prevent abuse.
+ -- 33
+## Viable System Model
+ The Viable System Model offered a management structure for the regulation of ex-
+ ceedingly complex systems. It was based on Beer’s understanding of how the human
+ nervous system functioned, and it applied these insights more generally to the behav-
+ ior of organizations such as a company, government, or factory. 81
+ [...]
+ Beer maintained that the abstraction of the structure could be applied in numerous
+ contexts, including the firm, the body, and the state. In keeping with Beer’s emphasis
+ on performance rather than representation, it was not a model that accurately repre-
+ sented what these systems were; rather, it was a model that described how these sys-
+ tems behaved. The Viable System Model functioned recursively: the parts of a viable
+ system were also viable, and their behavior could be described using the Viable System
+ Model. Beer explains: “The whole is always encapsulated in each part. . . . This is a les-
+ son learned from biology where we find the genetic blue- print of the whole organism
+ in every cell.” 83 Thus, Beer maintained that the state, the company, the worker, and the
+ cell all exhibit the same series of structural relationships.
+ The Viable System Model devised ways to promote vertical and lateral communica-
+ tion. It offered a balance between centralized and decentralized control that prevented
+ both the tyranny of authoritarianism and the chaos of total freedom. Beer considered
+ viable systems to be largely self- organizing. Therefore, the model sought to maximize
+ the autonomy of its component parts so that they could organize themselves as they
+ saw fit. At the same time, it retained channels for vertical control to maintain the stabil-
+ ity of the whole system. These aspects of the Viable System Model shaped the design of
+ Project Cybersyn and provide another illustration of how Beer and Popular Unity were
+ exploring similar approaches to the problem of control.
+ [...]
+ The Viable System Model did not impose a hierarchical form of management in a
+ traditional sense. The dynamic communication between System One and System Two
+ enabled a form of adaptive man-
+ [...]
+ The Viable System Model draws a distinction between the bottom three levels of the
+ system, which govern daily operations, and the upper two levels of management, which
+ determine future development and the overall direction of the enterprise. Because the
+ lower three levels manage day- to- day activities and filter upward only the most impor-
+ tant information, the upper two levels are free to think about larger questions. In this
+ sense, Beer’s model tackled the idea of information overload long before the Internet
+ required us to wade into and make sense of an expanding sea of information.
+ -- 35-38
+## Management Cybernetics and Revolution
+ The tension inherent in Beer’s model between individual autonomy and the welfare
+ of the collective organism mirrors the struggle between competing ideologies found in
+ Allende’s democratic socialism. Allende’s interpretation of Marx’s writings emphasized
+ the importance of respecting Chile’s existing democratic processes in bringing about
+ socialist reform, a possibility that Marx alluded to but never realized. 91 In contrast to
+ the centralized planning found in the Soviet Union, Allende’s articulation of socialism
+ stressed a commitment to decentralized governance with worker participation in man-
+ agement, reinforcing his professed belief in individual freedoms. Yet he also acknowl-
+ edged that in the face of political plurality the government would favor the “interest of
+ those who made their living by their own work” and that revolution should be brought
+ about from above with a “firm guiding hand.” 92
+ [...]
+ In October 1970, nine months before Beer heard from Flores, the cybernetician de-
+ livered an address in London titled “This Runaway World—Can Man Gain Control?”
+ In this lecture Beer unknowingly foretold his coming involvement with the Allende
+ government. Commenting that government in its present form could not adequately
+ handle the complex challenges of modern society, Beer concluded: “What is needed is
+ structural change. Nothing else will do. . . . The more I reflect on these facts, the more
+ I perceive that the evolutionary approach to adaptation in social systems simply will
+ not work any more. . . . It has therefore become clear to me over the years that I am
+ advocating revolution.” 94 Beer added, “Do not let us have our revolution the hard way,
+ whereby all that mankind has successfully built may be destroyed. We do not need to
+ embark on the revolutionary process, with bombs and fire. But we must start with a
+ genuinely revolutionary intention: to devise wholly new methods for handling our
+ problems.” 95 Less than one year later, Beer would be in Chile helping a government
+ accomplish exactly this.
+ -- 39-40
+## Cyberfolk
+ Thus Beer proposed building a new form of real- time communication, one that
+ would allow the people to communicate their feelings directly to the government. He
+ called this system Project Cyberfolk. In a handwritten report Beer describes how to
+ build a series of “algedonic meters” capable of measuring how happy Chileans were
+ with their government at any given time. 72 As noted in chapter 1, Beer used the word
+ algedonic to describe a signal of pleasure or pain. An algedonic meter would allow the
+ public to express its pleasure or pain, or its satisfaction or dissatisfaction with govern-
+ ment actions.
+ -- 89
+## Constructing the Liberty Machine
+ As scientific director Beer created a work culture closer to the startup culture of the
+ 1990s than to the chain- of- command bureaucracy that flourished in the 1960s and
+ 1970s and was characteristic of Chilean government agencies. He viewed his position
+ as scientific director more as that of a “free agent” than a micromanager. After establish-
+ ing offices at the State Technology Institute (INTEC) and the Sheraton, he informed the
+ team that he would work at either location at his discretion and call on project team
+ members as required. Moreover, he refused to stick to a traditional nine- to- five work
+ schedule. Team members often found themselves working alongside the bearded cyber-
+ netician into the wee hours of the morning. This schedule enabled them to attend to
+ other projects at their regular jobs during the day and helped create an informal cama-
+ raderie among team members that bolstered their enthusiasm for the project.
+ [...]
+ In a memo to the Cybersyn team, Beer explains that he broke Cybersyn into clearly de-
+ fined subprojects that small teams could address intensively. This arrangement allowed
+ for a “meeting of the minds” within the smaller group, and because the small team
+ did not need approval from the larger group, it could progress quickly. At the same
+ time Beer insisted that each team keep the others informed of its progress. He arranged
+ large brainstorming sessions that brought together the members of different subteams.
+ In these sessions, he instructed, “sniping and bickering are OUT. Brain- storming is es-
+ sentially CREATIVE. . . . At least everyone gets to know everyone else, and how their
+ minds work. This activity is essentially FUN: fun generates friendship, and drags us all
+ out of our personal holes- in- the- ground.” Project leaders could then take ideas from
+ the brainstorming sessions and use them to improve their part of the project, thus in-
+ corporating the suggestions of others. Beer contrasted this “fun” style of management
+ with the more common practice of bringing all interested parties together to make
+ project decisions. That approach, he felt, eventually led to bickering, sniping, or sleep-
+ ing. It “masquerades as ‘democratic,’ [but] is very wasteful,” he observed. 12 In addition,
+ he required all project leaders to write a progress report at the end of each month and
+ distribute it to the other team leaders. Beer viewed the brainstorming sessions and
+ the written project reports as serving a function similar to the signals passed between
+ the different organs of the body: they kept members of the team aware of activities
+ elsewhere. They also allowed the different subteams to adapt to progress or setbacks
+ elsewhere and helped Cybersyn maintain its viability as a coordinated project while it
+ advanced toward completion.
+ -- 97-99
+## The October Strike
+ Flores proposed setting up a central command center in the presidential palace that
+ would bring together the president, the cabinet, the heads of the political parties in
+ the Popular Unity coalition, and representatives from the National Labor Federation—
+ approximately thirty- five people by Grandi’s estimation. Once these key people were
+ brought together in one place and apprised of the national situation, Flores reasoned,
+ they could then reach out to the networks of decision makers in their home institu-
+ tions and get things done. This human network would help the government make
+ decisions quickly and thus allow it to adapt to a rapidly changing situation. “Forget
+ technology,” Flores said—this network consisted of “normal people,” a point that is
+ well taken but also oversimplistic. 21 The solution he proposed was social and technical,
+ as it configured machines and human beings in a way that could help the government
+ adapt and survive.
+ In addition to the central command hub in the presidential palace, Flores estab-
+ lished a number of specialized command centers dedicated to transportation, industry,
+ energy, banking, agriculture, health, and the supply of goods. Telex machines, many
+ of which were already in place for Project Cybersyn, connected these specialized com-
+ mand centers to the presidential palace. 22 Flores also created a secret telephone network
+ consisting of eighty- four numbers and linking some of the most important people in
+ the government, including members of the Popular Unity coalition and the National
+ Labor Federation. According to Grandi, this phone network remained active through-
+ out the remainder of Allende’s presidency. 23
+ Both the telex and the telephone network allowed the command centers to re-
+ ceive upward flows of current information from across the country and to disseminate
+ government orders back down, bypassing the bureaucracy. Flores assembled a team at
+ the presidential palace that would analyze the data sent over the network and compile
+ these data into reports. High- ranking members of government used these reports to
+ inform their decisions, which Flores’s team then communicated using the telex and
+ telephone networks. This arrangement gave the government the ability to make more
+ dynamic decisions.
+ The Project Cybersyn telex room, housed in the State Development Corporation
+ (CORFO), served as the industrial command center during the strike. In addition to
+ transmitting the daily production data needed for the Cyberstride software, the CORFO
+ telex machines now carried urgent messages about factory production. “There were
+ enterprises that reported shortages of fuel,” Espejo recalled. Using the network, those
+ in the industrial command center could “distribute this message to the enterprises that
+ could help.” 24 The network also enabled the government to address distribution prob-
+ lems, such as locating trucks that were available to carry the raw materials and spare
+ parts needed to maintain production in Chilean factories, or determining which roads
+ remained clear of obstructionist strike activity. Espejo recalled, “The sector committees
+ were able to ask the enterprises to send raw materials, transport vehicles, or whatever
+ to another enterprise” that needed them. At the same time, enterprises could send re-
+ quests to the sector committees and have these requests addressed immediately. “It was
+ a very practical thing,” Espejo continued, referring in particular to the state- appointed
+ managers known as interventors. “You are the interventor of an enterprise, you are run-
+ ning out of fuel, you ask the corresponding sector committee. . . . Or [the interventors]
+ know that the raw materials they need are available in Valparaíso and that they need a
+ truck to go and get it. With bureaucratic procedures it would have been more difficult
+ to resolve these situations.” 25
+ [...]
+ After the strike, Silva said, “two concepts stayed in our mind: that
+ information helps you make decisions and, above all, that it [the telex
+ machine] helps you keep a record of this information, which is different from
+ making a telephone call. [Having this record] lets you correct your mistakes
+ and see why things happened.” Silva added that the energy command center relied
+ primarily on the telex network because it gave up- to-
+ [...]
+ The telex network thus extended the reach of the social network that Flores had
+ assembled in the presidential command center and created a sociotechnical network
+ in the most literal sense. Moreover, the network connected the vertical command
+ of the government to the horizontal activities that were taking place on the shop
+ floor. To put it another way, the network offered a communications infrastructure
+ to link the revolution from above, led by Allende, to the revolution from below, led
+ by Chilean workers and members of grassroots organizations, and helped coordinate
+ the activities of both in a time of crisis.
+ -- 148-150
+## Automation, autonomy and worker participation
+ Beer was spinning ideas in “One Year of (Relative) Solitude,” but he was aiming for
+ a new technological approach to the worker participation question that would create a
+ more democratic and less stratified workplace. And he concluded that giving workers
+ control of technology, both its use and its design, could constitute a new form of
+ worker empowerment.
+ This assertion differed substantially from how other industrial studies of the day
+ approached the relationship of computer technology and labor in twentieth- century
+ production. Such studies, especially those inspired by Marxist analysis, often presented
+ computers and computer- controlled machinery as tools of capital that automated la-
+ bor, led to worker deskilling, and gave management greater control of the shop floor.
+ In Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974), Harry Braverman credits such machinery “as the
+ prime means whereby production may be controlled not by the direct producer but by the owner
+ and representatives of capital ” and cites computer technology as routinizing even highly
+ skilled professions such as engineering. 53
+ [...]
+ In the 1950s Norbert Wiener, author of Cybernetics , believed computers would
+ usher in a second industrial revolution and lead to the creation of an
+ automatic factory. In The Human Use of Human Beings (1954), he worries that
+ auto- mated machinery “is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any
+ labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of
+ slave labor.” 56
+ -- 159-160
+ Two factors explain the difference between Beer and Braverman, who were writing
+ at about the same time. First, the computer system Beer designed did not automate
+ labor. Given the Popular Unity commitment to raising employment levels, automating
+ labor would not have made political sense. Second, Beer was writing and working in a
+ different political context than Braverman. The context of Chilean socialism inspired
+ Beer and gave him the freedom to envision new forms of worker participation that were
+ more substantial than what Braverman saw in the United States. It also allowed Beer
+ to see computer technology as something other than an abusive capitalist tool used by
+ management to control labor. Beer’s approach also reflected his position as a hired sci-
+ ence and technology consultant. His use of technology to address worker participation
+ differed from the contemporaneous efforts of the Allende government on this issue,
+ efforts that had focused on devising new governing committees within the industrial
+ sector and electing worker representatives.
+ [...]
+ Beer’s proposal bears a close resemblance to the work on participatory design that
+ emerged from the social democratic governments in Scandinavia in the 1970s. The
+ history of participatory design is often tied to Scandinavian trade union efforts to em-
+ power workers during that decade, and thus to create a more equitable power relation-
+ ship between labor and capital in Scandinavian factories. 58 These efforts were either
+ contemporaneous to Beer’s December report or began several years later, depending on
+ historical interpretation. Like the aforementioned automation studies, early participa-
+ tory design work viewed technologies such as computer systems as representing the
+ interests of management, not labor. However, participatory design used the primacy of
+ management as a starting point and then tried to change the dynamics of the labor-
+ capital relationship by changing the social practices surrounding the design and use
+ of technology.
+ -- 161
+ Furthermore, appointing worker representatives to control the use of Cybersyn
+ would not guarantee that the system would be used in a way that represented the best
+ interests of the rank and file. Studies of worker participation have shown that worker
+ representatives often separate themselves from their co- workers on the shop floor and
+ form a new group of administrators. As Juan Espinosa and Andrew Zimbalist write in
+ their study of worker participation in Allende’s Chile, “It has been the historical experi-
+ ence, with a few exceptions, that those interpreting workers’ priorities and needs have
+ grown apart from the workers they are supposed to represent. . . . [They] become a new
+ class of privileged administrators.” 63 Simply put, it would be impossible to give “the
+ workers” control of Cybersyn as Beer suggested, even if Chilean workers possessed the
+ skills to use the technology or build the factory models.
+ Despite these oversights, Beer did realize that the October Strike was a transforma-
+ tive event for Chilean workers. Their self- organization and improvisation during the
+ strike played a central role in maintaining production, transportation, and distribu-
+ tion across the country. During the strike, workers organized to defend their factories
+ from paramilitary attacks, retooled their machines to perform new tasks, and set up
+ new community networks to distribute essential goods directly to the Chilean people.
+ Members of larger industrial belts collaborated with other groups of workers to seize
+ private- sector enterprises that had stopped production during the strike. Historian Pe-
+ ter Winn notes that during the strike workers came together regardless of politics,
+ industrial sector, factory, or status, thus “generating the dynamism, organization, and
+ will to stalemate the counterrevolutionary offensive and transform it into an opportu-
+ nity for revolutionary advance.” 64 In short, the strike transformed the mindset of the
+ Chilean working class and showed that workers could take control of their destiny and
+ accelerate the revolutionary process.
+ -- 162-163
+## Self-organization
+ Despite these oversights, Beer did realize that the October Strike was a transforma-
+ tive event for Chilean workers. Their self- organization and improvisation during the
+ strike played a central role in maintaining production, transportation, and distribu-
+ tion across the country. During the strike, workers organized to defend their factories
+ from paramilitary attacks, retooled their machines to perform new tasks, and set up
+ new community networks to distribute essential goods directly to the Chilean people.
+ Members of larger industrial belts collaborated with other groups of workers to seize
+ private- sector enterprises that had stopped production during the strike. Historian Pe-
+ ter Winn notes that during the strike workers came together regardless of politics,
+ industrial sector, factory, or status, thus “generating the dynamism, organization, and
+ will to stalemate the counterrevolutionary offensive and transform it into an opportu-
+ nity for revolutionary advance.” 64 In short, the strike transformed the mindset of the
+ Chilean working class and showed that workers could take control of their destiny and
+ accelerate the revolutionary process.
+ Although his information was limited, Beer was aware of workers’ activities during
+ the strike, and was excited by them. In fact, the ideas he presented in his December
+ report, “One Year of (Relative) Solitude,” were designed to support the “people’s auton-
+ omy.” Beer wrote, “The new task [outlined in the report] is to try and get all this, plus
+ the spontaneous things that I know are happening [such as the cordones industriales ]
+ together.” 65 From his perspective, it looked as if Chilean workers were self- organizing
+ to keep the larger revolutionary project viable. It is important to stress, especially given
+ the criticism he would receive in the months that followed, that Beer viewed his role as
+ using science and technology to help support these bottom- up initiatives.
+ Although Beer’s take on participatory design was inspired by the events of the Oc-
+ tober Strike, it also came from his understandings of cybernetics. “The basic answer of
+ cybernetics to the question of how the system should be organized is that it ought to
+ organize itself,” Beer writes in the pages of Decision and Control . 66 In his writings Beer of-
+ ten cited nature as a complex system that remains viable through its self- organization.
+ He argued that such systems do not need to be designed because they already exist. To
+ modify the behavior of such a system, one need not control its every aspect but rather
+ change one subsystem so that the overall system naturally drifts toward the desired
+ goal. Perhaps the injection of worker action could drive Chile toward a new point of
+ homeostatic equilibrium, one that was congruent with the overall goal of socialist
+ transformation.
+ -- 163-164
+## Cybernetics
+ Increasingly, Cybersyn was becoming a technological project divorced from its
+ cybernetic and political origins. The best- known component of the project,
+ the telex network, was not even associ- ated with the overall Cybersyn system,
+ let alone with Beer’s ideas about management cybernetics.
+ In contrast, members of the core group had become serious students of cybernetics.
+ Several months earlier they had formed a small study group known as the Group of
+ 14 and tasked themselves with learning more about cybernetics and related scientific
+ work in psychology, biology, computer science, and information theory. They read the
+ work of Warren Weaver, Claude Shannon, Heinz von Foerster, and Herbert Simon and
+ invited Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela to speak to the
+ group (both accepted). Maturana was arguably the first substantial connection between
+ Chile and the international cybernetics community. In 1959, while a graduate student
+ at Harvard, he had coauthored an important paper, “What the Frog’s Eye Tells the
+ Frog’s Brain,” with Warren McCulloch, Jerome Lettvin, and Walter Pitts, all of whom
+ were important figures in the growing field of cybernetics. 76
+ -- 166
+## Cybersyn Goes Public
+ These initial press accounts illustrate a finding from science studies research, namely,
+ that for a technology to be successful it must be taken up by people other than the in-
+ ventors. What Bruno Latour, a sociologist of science, writes of scientific ideas also holds
+ true for technologies: “You need them , to make your [scientific] paper a decisive one.” 16
+ However, this appropriation creates a dangerous situation. Engineers need others to
+ support their technologies so that the technology will be successful, but in the process
+ the engineers lose control of their invention. Latour warns, “The total movement . . .
+ of a statement, of an artefact, will depend to some extent on your action but to a much
+ greater extent on that of a crowd over which you have little control.” 17 As Latour ob-
+ serves, others may decide to accept the technology as it is, but they could also dismiss,
+ appropriate, or change the technology in fundamental ways.
+ -- 177
+## Simple technologies
+ To these criticisms, Beer responded that the system used simple technologies such
+ as telex machines, drew from excellent programming talent in London and Santiago,
+ and relied on many “human interfaces,” meaning it was not automated. He also said
+ that he was tired of hearing the assertion that such a system could be built only in the
+ United States, and stressed that building the futuristic control room required only “the
+ managerial acceptance of the idea, plus the will to see it realized.” 18 But, he added, “I
+ finally found both the acceptance and the will—on the other side of the world.” 19 This
+ final comment was a not- so- subtle jab at his British compatriots, who over the years
+ had questioned the legitimacy and feasibility of his cybernetic ideas.
+ -- 178
+## Necessary instability; power and control
+ The comments Espejo, Flores, and Schwember telexed to Beer show that they ob-
+ jected to other facets of the speech as drafted. They wrote that, while they agreed
+ that cybernetic thinking might help the government increase social stability, they
+ also wondered whether instability might be an important part of social progress. “His-
+ torical development is a succession of equilibriums and unequilibriums [ sic ],” Espejo
+ telexed. Disequilibrium “might be indispensable.” This is an interesting observation,
+ although it was not raised as an objection to Cybersyn in subsequent press accounts.
+ The Chileans also challenged Beer’s framing of the Chilean revolution as a control
+ problem. “The social phenomena goes [ sic ] further than the control problem,” Espejo
+ wrote; “there is for instance the problem of power.” If cybernetics looked only at con-
+ trol and ignored power relationships, “there is the danger that cybernetics might be
+ used for social repression,” Espejo continued, echoing the fears that had already ap-
+ peared in the press. Beer responded: “I cannot write the next book in this one lec-
+ ture.” 30 But perhaps Beer would have given greater thought to this issue had he known
+ that his critics would be most concerned with whether Cybersyn facilitated social
+ repression.
+ [...]
+ Beer writes that “the polarity between centralization and
+ decentralization—one masquerading as oppression and the other as freedom—is a
+ myth. Even if the homeostatic balance point turns out not to be always
+ computable, it surely exists. The poles are two absurdities for any viable
+ system, as our own bodies will tell us.” 31 The algedonic, or warning, signals
+ that Cybersyn sent to alert higher management constituted a threat to factory
+ freedom but it was a necessary one, for not alerting higher management might
+ pose a greater threat to system survival. “The body politic cannot sustain the
+ risk of autonomic inac- tion any more than we can as human beings,” Beer
+ observed. 32 In proposing the idea of effective freedom, Beer was arguing (1)
+ that freedom was something that could be calculated and (2) that freedom should
+ be quantitatively circumscribed to ensure the stability of the overall system.
+ For those who had followed Beer’s work over the years, effective freedom was a
+ new term to describe the balance of centralized and decentral- ized control
+ that Beer had advocated for more than a decade. It also reflected the same
+ principles as Allende’s democratic socialism, which increased state power but
+ preserved civil liberties. But for the uninitiated, the claim that a control
+ system that explicitly limited freedom actually preserved and promoted freedom
+ must have seemed like a political slogan straight out of 1984 . 33
+ -- 180-181
+ In fact, Hanlon was not alone in recognizing Cybersyn’s potential for
+ centralized control. On 1 March Beer telexed to Espejo, “Accusations come from
+ Britain and the USA. Invitations [to build comparable systems] come from Brazil
+ and South Africa.” Considering the repressive governments that were in power in
+ Brazil and South Africa in the early 1970s, it is easy to sympathize with
+ Beer’s lament: “You can see what a false position I am in.” 46 Beer was
+ understandably frustrated with these international misinterpretations of his
+ cybernetic work.
+ However, it took little political imagination to see how putting Cybersyn in a differ-
+ ent social, political, and organizational context could make the system an instrument
+ of centralized control. Beer had tried to embed political values in Cybersyn’s design,
+ but he engineered them in the social and organizational aspects of the Cybersyn sys-
+ tem, in addition to the technology itself. As safeguards, these social and organizational
+ arrangements were not very strong. Archived telexes from the project team show that if
+ the Cyberstride software detected a production indicator outside the accepted range of
+ values, a member of the National Computer Corporation (ECOM) alerted the affected
+ enterprise, those in the central telex room in CORFO, and Espejo in the CORFO infor-
+ matics directorate—all at the same time.
+ -- 183-184
+## Feasibility
+ Grosch’s letter to the editor underlines the assumption that industrialized nations,
+ such as the United States and the nations of Western Europe, pioneered modern com-
+ puter capabilities; nations of the developing world, such as Chile, did not. In his let-
+ ter Grosch wrote that Project Cybersyn could not be built in a “strange and primitive
+ hardware and software environment,” such as that found in Chile, and in such a short
+ time.
+ -- 186-187
+ For the system to function, human beings also needed to be disciplined and brought
+ into line. In the case of Cybersyn, integrating human beings into the system, and thus
+ changing their behavior, proved just as difficult as building the telex network or pro-
+ gramming the software—or perhaps even more difficult. While the Cybersyn team could
+ exert some degree of control over the computer resources, construction of the operations
+ room, or installation of a telex machine, they had very little control over what was tak-
+ ing place within the factories, including levels of management participation or whether
+ Cybersyn would be integrated into existing management practices. Espejo and Benadof
+ lacked the authority to force the state- run factories to implement Cybersyn, and indus-
+ trial managers remained unconvinced that it warranted their total compliance.
+ -- 190
+## Conclusions
+ This history is a case study for better understanding the multifaceted relationship
+ of technology and politics. In particular, I have used this history to address (1) how
+ governments have envisioned using computer and communications technologies to
+ bring about structural change in society; (2) the ways technologists have tried to em-
+ bed political values in the design of technical systems; (3) the challenges associated
+ with such efforts; and (4) how studying the relationship of technology and politics
+ can reveal the important but often hidden role of technology in history and enhance
+ our understanding of historical processes. Forty years later, this little- known story also
+ has much to say about the importance of transnational collaboration, technological
+ innovation, and the ways in which geopolitics influences technology.
+ Computer and communications technologies have often been linked to processes
+ of political, economic, and social transformation. But claims that these technologies
+ can bring about structural change in society—like the frequent assertion that comput-
+ ers will bring democracy or greater social equality—are often made in the absence
+ of historical analysis.
+ -- 212
+ Project Cybersyn is an example of the difficulty of creating a sociotechnical system
+ designed to change existing social relationships and power configurations and then
+ enforce the new patterns over time. Scientific techniques may conceal biases with a
+ veneer of neutrality and thus lead to undesirable results. For example, Allende charged
+ the Project Cybersyn team with building a system that supported worker participation.
+ Yet the scientific techniques Chilean engineers used to model the state- controlled fac-
+ tories resembled Taylorism, a rationalized approach to factory production that disem-
+ powered workers and gave management greater control over labor. Time analysis, for
+ example, emerged in the context of capitalist production, prioritizing efficiency and
+ productivity over other values, such as the quality of shop floor life. By using time-
+ analysis techniques, Cybersyn engineers could have inadvertently created production
+ relationships that were counter to the Popular Unity platform and then solidified them
+ in the form of a computer model.
+ Sociotechnical relationships must also remain intact for the system to maintain the
+ desired configuration of power. Changing these technical, social, and organizational
+ relationships may also change the distribution of power within the system. As I have
+ shown, in some cases it is much easier to change a sociotechnical system than to hold it
+ static. The history of Project Cybersyn suggests that the interpretation of sociotechnical
+ relationships is especially malleable when a system is new, forms part of a controversial
+ political project, or requires existing social, technical, and organizational relationships
+ to change in substantial ways.
+ This malleability makes it extremely difficult to marry a sociotechnical system to a
+ specific set of political values, especially if the goal is to create dramatic changes in the
+ status quo. In the case of Cybersyn, journalists, scientists, and government officials all
+ [...]
+ Once separated from the social and organizational relations that Beer imagined,
+ the technology of Project Cybersyn could support many different forms of
+ government, including totalitarianism. If Project Cybersyn had been implemented
+ as Beer imagined, it might have become a system that supported such values as
+ democracy, participation, and autonomy. But as its critics perceived, it would
+ have been easy to circumvent the technological and organizational safeguards
+ the team designed; therefore, it would have been easy for the system to support
+ a different set of political values, especially in different social,
+ organizational, and geographic settings. Value- centered design is a
+ complicated and challenging endeavor. Even if technolo-
+ [...]
+ Even if technologists attempt to build certain relationships into the design
+ of a technological system, which itself is a fraught and socially negotiated
+ process, they have no guarantee that others will adopt the system in the
+ desired way—or that they will adopt the system at all.
+ -- 215-216
+ This history further reveals that different nations have very different experiences
+ with computer technology and that these experiences are connected to the political,
+ economic, and geographic contexts of these nations. Chilean democratic socialism
+ prompted the creation of a computer technology that furthered the specific aims of
+ the Chilean revolution and would not have made sense in the United States. The Chil-
+ ean context also differed from that of the Soviet Union in fundamental ways. Because
+ Chile was significantly smaller than the Soviet Union in its geography, population, and
+ industrial output, building a computer system to help regulate the Chilean economy
+ was a more manageable affair. In addition, the Soviet solution used computers for cen-
+ tralized top- down control and collected a wealth of data about industrial production
+ activities with the goal of improving state planning. In contrast, the Cybersyn team
+ used Beer’s view of management cybernetics to create a system that emphasized action
+ as well as planning; and the system sent limited quantities of information up the gov-
+ ernment hierarchy, and tried to maximize factory self- management without sacrificing
+ the health of the entire economy. As this contrast shows, technologies are the product
+ of the people involved in their creation and the political and economic moments in
+ which they are built.
+ -- 218
+ This particular transnational collaboration sheds light on processes of technologi-
+ cal innovation in differently situated world contexts. Project Cybersyn, a case study
+ of technological innovation, was a cutting- edge system using technologies that were
+ far from the most technologically sophisticated. A network of telex machines trans-
+ formed a middle- of- the- road mainframe computer into a new form of economic com-
+ munication. Slide projectors presented new visual representations of economic data.
+ Hand- drawn graphs showing data collected on a daily basis gave the government a
+ macroscopic view of economic activity and identified the areas of the economy most
+ in need of attention. Project Cybersyn thus challenges the assumption that advanced
+ technologies need to be complex. Sophisticated systems can be built using simple tech-
+ nologies, provided that particular attention is paid to how humans interact and the
+ ways that technology can change the dynamics of these interactions. Project Cybersyn
+ may be a useful example for thinking about sustainable design or the creation of tech-
+ nologies for regions of the world with limited resources. 3
+ This story of technological innovation also challenges the assumption that innova-
+ tion results from private- sector competition in an open marketplace. Disconnection
+ from the global marketplace, as occurred in Chile, can also lead to technological in-
+ novation and even make it a necessity. This history has shown that the state, as well
+ as the private sector, can support innovation. The history of technology also backs this
+ finding; for example, in the United States the state played a central role in funding
+ high- risk research in important areas such as computing and aviation. However, this
+ lesson is often forgotten. As we recover from the effects of a financial crisis, brought
+ on in large part by our extraordinary faith in the logic of the free market, it is a lesson
+ that is worth remembering.
+ -- 219-220
+ Geopolitics also shapes our understandings of technological development and tech-
+ nological change. If historians, technologists, designers, educators, and policy makers
+ continue to give substantial and disproportionate attention to the technologies that
+ triumph, a disproportionate number of which were built in the industrial centers of the
+ world, they miss seeing the richness of the transnational cross- fertilization that occurs
+ outside the industrial centers and the complex ways that people, ideas, and artifacts
+ move and evolve in the course of their travels. Technological innovation is the result
+ of complex social, political, and economic relationships that span nations and cultures.
+ To understand the dynamics of technological development—and perhaps thereby do
+ a better job of encouraging it—we must broaden our view of where technological in-
+ novation occurs and give greater attention to the areas of the world marginalized by
+ these studies in the past.
+ -- 221
+## Epilogue
+ While on Dawson Island, Flores and the other prisoners reflected on their experi-
+ ences during the previous three years and, as a group, tried to understand the com-
+ plexities of Chilean socialism and what had gone wrong. Flores offered the group a
+ cybernetic interpretation of events, which resonated with Allende’s former minister of
+ mining, Sergio Bitar. When Bitar published a detailed history of the Allende govern-
+ ment in 1986, he used cybernetics to explain in part what happened during Allende’s
+ presidency. Bitar writes, “In the present case [the Allende government], systemic variety
+ grew because of structural alterations and disturbance of the existing self- regulatory
+ mechanisms (principally those of the market). But the directing center (the govern-
+ ment) did not expand its variety controls with the necessary speed; nor could it replace
+ the existing self- regulatory mechanism with new ones.” Bitar concludes that “when
+ a complex system [the Chilean nation] is subject to transformation it is essential to
+ master systemic variety at every moment.” 17 This choice of language, seemingly out of
+ place in a study of political history, shows that Chile’s encounter with cybernetics not
+ only led to the creation of Project Cybersyn but also shaped how some members of the
+ Allende government made sense of the history they had lived.
+ -- 229
+ But the more Flores read, the more he began to see the limitations of cybernetic
+ thinking. While Flores still felt that the Law of Requisite Variety and the Viable System
+ Model were useful concepts, he believed they were insufficient for the situations he had
+ encountered while in Allende’s cabinet. “My problem [in Allende’s cabinet] was not
+ variety; my problem was the configuration of reality, persuading other people,” Flores
+ said. 20 Understanding the configuration of reality became a driving intellectual pursuit
+ for Flores, and he found the work of the Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela espe-
+ cially useful toward this end. In addition to developing the theory of autopoiesis with
+ Varela, Maturana had conducted extensive work on optics. His 1959 work with Jerry
+ Lettvin, Warren McCulloch, and Walter Pitts analyzed the frog’s optical system and
+ concluded that what a frog sees is not reality per se but rather a construction assembled
+ by the frog’s visual system. What the frog sees is therefore a product of its biological
+ structure. This distinction formed the foundation for much of Maturana and Varela’s
+ later work in biology and cognition during the 1960s and 1970s, and later inspired the
+ two biologists to break with traditional claims of scientific objectivity and emphasize
+ the role of the observer. One of Maturana’s best- known claims—“Anything said is said
+ by an observer”—illustrates this point. 21
+ Flores’s dissatisfaction with cybernetics paralleled a similar dissatisfaction within
+ the cybernetics community. Heinz von Foerster, who had worked with Maturana, Va-
+ rela, and the Group of 14 in Chile, found it problematic that cybernetics claimed to
+ create objective representations of real- world phenomena that were independent of
+ an observer. 22 Von Foerster described this approach as “first- order cybernetics,” which
+ he defined as “the cybernetics of observed systems.” However, von Foerster was influ-
+ enced by Maturana’s work and, like Maturana, became convinced that the observer
+ plays a central role in the construction of cybernetic models. In the fall of 1973 von
+ Foerester taught a yearlong course at the University of Illinois on the “cybernetics of
+ cybernetics,” or what became known as second- order cybernetics, “the cybernetics of
+ observing systems.” 23 Although von Foerster was not the only person involved in the
+ development of second- order cybernetics, studies of this intellectual transition have
+ credited von Foerster for bridging the gap between first- order and second- order cyber-
+ netic thinking. 24 Not surprisingly, Flores also took to the idea of second- order cybernet-
+ ics, and in his later writing he would cite von Foerster’s edited volume Cybernetics of
+ Cybernetics . 25
+ [...]
+ Flores credits Maturana for leading him to the work of Martin Heidegger. Like Ma-
+ turana, Heidegger rejected the existence of an objective external world and saw objects/
+ texts as coexisting with their observers/interpreters. Heidegger’s idea of “thrownness”
+ also resonated with Flores—the idea that in everyday life we are thrown into the world
+ and forced to act without the benefit of reflection, rational planning, or objective as-
+ sessment. Looking back, Flores saw his time in the Allende cabinet as an example of
+ thrownness rather than rational decision making. “My job was so demanding that I did
+ not have the time to perfect [what I was doing]. I only had time to feel it. It was some-
+ thing I felt.” 29 In the context of emergency, he had no time to study the laws of control
+ laid down by cybernetics in order to determine how best to resolve government crises.
+ Flores often had to lead with his gut, and his previous experiences and the traditions of
+ Chilean society implicitly shaped his decisions. Flores also realized that “when you are
+ minister and you say something, no matter what you say, it has consequences.” 30 It was
+ therefore important to use words deliberately. Flores found that management through
+ variety control did not allow intuitive forms of decision making, nor did it account for
+ the previous experiences and cultural situation of decision makers or accommodate the
+ importance of communicating effectively and with intention.
+ [...]
+ Understanding Computers and Cognition begins by critiquing the rationalist assump-
+ tion that an objective, external world exists. The critique builds on the ideas of Hei-
+ degger, Searle, Maturana, J. L. Austin, and Hans- Georg Gadamer to show that knowledge
+ is the result of interpretation and depends on the past experiences of the interpreter
+ and his or her situatedness in tradition. Winograd and Flores then argue that because
+ computers lack such experiences and traditions, they cannot replace human beings as
+ knowledge makers. “The ideal of an objectively knowledgeable expert must be replaced
+ with a recognition of the importance of background,” Winograd and Flores write. “This
+ can lead to the design of tools that facilitate a dialog of evolving understanding among
+ a knowledgeable community.” 32 Building on this observation, the authors propose that
+ computers should not make decisions for us but rather should assist human actions,
+ especially human “communicative acts that create requests and commitments that
+ serve to link us to others.” 33 Moreover, computer designers should not focus on creating
+ an artifact but should view their labors as a form of “ontological design.” Computers
+ should reflect who we are and how we interact in the world, as well as shape what we
+ can do and who we will become. The American Society for Information Science named
+ -- 230-231
+ To some he was brusque, intimidating, direct to the point of rudeness, and off-
+ putting. Yet his message and his success in both the academic and business
+ communities transformed him into a cult figure for others.
+ [...]
+ “A civil democracy with a market economy is the best political construction so
+ far because it allows people to be history makers,” the authors declare. 41
+ Flores’s transformation from socialist minister was now complete: he had wholly
+ remade himself in the image of neoliberalism.
+ Thus, by the end of the 1990s, Flores and Beer had switched places. Flores had
+ morphed into a wealthy international consultant driven by the conviction that orga-
+ nization, communication, and action all were central to making businesses successful.
+ Meanwhile, Beer had become increasingly interested in societal problems and chang-
+ ing the world for the better. His last book, Beyond Dispute (1994), proposed a new
+ method for problem solving based on the geometric configurations of the icosahedron,
+ a polygon with twenty equilateral triangle faces. He called this new method “synteg-
+ rity” and argued that it could serve as a new approach to conflict resolution in areas of
+ the world such as the Middle East.
+ -- 232-233