Project Cybersyn

POSTED: August 9, 2018

I read this today in Wikipedia. I had known about this earlier (as in years ago) but had forgotten it. We should remember it as one of the forerunners of the cultural democracy movement.

Project Cybersyn was a Chilean project from 1971–1973 during the presidency of Salvador Allende aimed at constructing a distributed decision support system to aid in the management of the national economy. The project consisted of four modules: an economic simulator, custom software to check factory performance, an operations room, and a national network of telex machines that were linked to one mainframe computer.[2]

Project Cybersyn was based on viable system model theory and a neural network approach to organizational design, and featured innovative technology for its time: it included a network of telex machines (Cybernet) in state-run enterprises that would transmit and receive information with the government in Santiago. Information from the field would be fed into statistical modeling software (Cyberstride) that would monitor production indicators (such as raw material supplies or high rates of worker absenteeism) in real time, and alert the workers in the first case, and in abnormal situations also the central government, if those parameters fell outside acceptable ranges. The information would also be input into economic simulation software (CHECO, for CHilean ECOnomic simulator) that the government could use to forecast the possible outcome of economic decisions. Finally, a sophisticated operations room (Opsroom) would provide a space where managers could see relevant economic data, formulate responses to emergencies, and transmit advice and directives to enterprises and factories in alarm situations by using the telex network.

The principal architect of the system was British operations research scientist Stafford Beer, and the system embodied his notions of organisational cybernetics in industrial management. One of its main objectives was to devolve decision-making power within industrial enterprises to their workforce in order to develop self-regulation of factories.

Update on August 22
I may have telepathic powers, able to tune into the zeitgeist. This morning I saw this article in the New Statesman. It looks at “the afterlife of Chile’s socialist internet” and points out that

This largely forgotten model is now being heralded by a new generation of tech-savvy leftists. Next month The World Transformed, the festival held on the Labour conference fringe, will host a session on “cybernetic socialism” featuring Raúl Espejo, the original operations director of Project Cybersyn.

I wish I could attend!