On the topic of convergences between cybernetics and design, there's also the rather wild Chilean Cybersyn project. In 1970, Dr. Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile. Against the wishes of the United States, Allende and his Popular Unity government hoped to create "the Chilean Way to Socialism," La v??a chilena al socialismo. Allende and Fernando Flores, his 29-year-old minister of finance (now philosopher and management consultant) were faced with the challenge of managing newly nationalized industry but hoped to avoid the top-down methods of the Soviet model. As a doctor, Allende was attracted to scientific methods and when Flores proposed a technocratic means of controlling the industry, he agreed, hiring on his recommendation British management guru/scientist/visionary Stafford Beer to create Project Cybersyn, a system with which to monitor the output of factories, the flow of materials, rates of absenteeism, and other indicators on a daily basis. Through Project Cybersyn, Beer hoped to implant an electronic "nervous system" into Chilean society. The country would be linked together via a vast communications network to create what the Guardian calls a "socialist Internet." Finding about 500 abandoned TELEX machines in a factory, Beer networked these together to a provide input for software written by Chilean engineers in consultation with British engineers from Arthur Anderson called Cyberstrider that used Bayesian statistics to create a self-learning control system. All this was fed into the Cybersyn Opsroom, designed by Grupo de Dise?±o Industrial, a government Industrial Design Group led by former Ulm School Professor Gui Bonsiepe. Although the room was never operational, it was understood at the time as "the symbolic heart of the project," to quote Eden Medina, a scholar who wrote her dissertation at MIT on the topic and presented the material at Bruno Latour's Making Things Public exhibit as well as in the catalog for the show. In a setting influenced by the design of 2001, seven swivel chairs with buttons in the armrests""?themselves influenced by Saarinen's Silla Tulip Chairs""?were clustered in a circle as advisors processed data from large projection screens. The armrests of each chair were outfitted with ash trays and spaces for drinks. Although there was no space for writing, which was prohibited, buttons allowed occupants to control the material on the screens and provide feedback. Since the advisors were used to secretaries doing the typing, there was no keyboard interface. Instead, large buttons, fit for pounding on, if necessary, allowed officials to make their decisions. But computer graphics was not yet ready for the job. The displays were not CRTs with computer generated data. Instead, industrial designers would painstakingly produce the diagrams by hand. These would be photographed and projected as slides onto the display screens. As Robert Sumrell mentioned to me, this proves that they had more faith in the computer than if they had actually had machines produce the renderings. Even as it consumed massive amounts of the Chilean economy, Cybersyn initially appeared to be successful when, during October 1972, conservative small businessmen went on strike. Some 50,000 truck drivers blocked the streets of Santiago, but through Cybersyn the government was able to identify 200 trucks that remained loyal and coordinate food deliveries to the areas of the city that needed it most. A year later, however, on September 11, 1973, Allende's government was overthrown in a military coup with support from the United States government and, allegedly, telecommunications conglomerate ITT, which specialized in owning telecommunications monopolies outside the United States and owned 70% of the Chilean Telephone Company. Cybersyn's simplifications proved unable to comprehend what was to come and the Pinochet regime destroyed the Cybersyn project and the Opsroom.
Technorati Tags: 1970s, computers, cybernetics, history of new media, object culture, ulm