Cybernetic Revolutionaries

Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile

Hardcover, 326 pages

English language

Published Oct. 30, 2011 by MIT Press.

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4 stars (6 reviews)

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 …

1 edition

academic, well researched and expansive within a niche

4 stars

A non-revolutionary non-authoritarian non-technocratic vision for computer-facilitated democratic socialist economic feedback and simulation in Allende's Chile. Follows threads (through archived correspondence and interviews with many key people) of Chilean officials enthusiasm for non-Soviet non-capitalist forms of state control, making do with limited computing and communication capacity, and the socialist shift in UK consultant Stafford Beer's flavor of Cybernetics - organisms adapting to changing environment, structural relational change not internal behavioral change, revolution though devolution of power. Within the narrow and dry subject, the author does an excellent job connecting and contextualizing relations to global power dynamics, gender dynamics, and the waxing and waning of technological solutions in political turmoil.

Review of 'Cybernetic Revolutionaries' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

I found out about project Cybersyn from the 99% invisible podcast and thankfully they recommended this book at the end of the episode.

OK, now what was Cybersyn (Cybernetics - Synergy)? Put simply it was an attempt of Allende's government to manage newly nationalized factories using Cybernetics (computers, teletype machines, mathematics and new management techniques). I have to compliment the author for the thoroughness and quality of research on this topic. She managed to beautifully cover the people, technology and politics that surrounded this project (she did repeat herself quite a bit, but I managed).

You have to be fascinated by the cold war period, the simultaneous joy and hope for the future and absolute terror of disaster made people try everything and anything. Just imagine the present if it worked long enough (it did reach something of an alpha version). What would really happen to the workers, would it …

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  • Politics and government
  • Case studies
  • Economic conditions
  • Cybernetics
  • Computer networks
  • Government business enterprises
  • Government ownership


  • Chile