That Time When a Single Computer Ran An Entire Country

Informed Dissent

A British computer scientist and cybernetic pioneer named A. Stafford Beer was invited in 1971 by the socialist/Marxist government of Chile, under the democratically elected Salvador Allende, to “run the country.”

The result was an experiment in technocracy. Beer unleashed what he called “Project Cybersyn: Cybernetics Synergy.”

A high ranking cabinet official had read Beer’s work on cybernetics, and convinced the Allende government – which would be swiftly removed by a CIA-backed coup only two years later in 1973 – to create an experiment in a high tech socialist state.

Beer’s vision for controlling society included cybernetic managers who would sit in futuristic chair with buttons, panels and displays straight out of Star Trek.

They would track data fed from the arms and legs and outposts of the country, which spans 3,000 miles North-to-South. Live data feeds would include feedback from ordinary citizens, who would express their satisfaction/or lack-thereof through a volt-o-meter in their living room that Beer called the “algedonic meter” – which expressed the pleasure or pain of the individuals and ultimately the whole of society.

Back to reality, in the two years Stafford Beer had to manage Chile’s economy and government with little funding, and used one computer to network data feed from points throughout the nation via Telex machines connected through the nation’s telecom.

Ironically, these communications lines were ultimately owned and controlled by the American corporation ITT, which was closely connected with the CIA overthrow of Allende.

Until that point, it had been the nervous system of Stafford Beer’s cybernetically-controlled society of the future.

Did anyone bother pointing out that the pleasure/pain centers are most useful for Pavlovian conditioning – training the responses of lab animals, or carefully managed “sheeple” who do as they’re told in society?

Our technological society has been confining, not liberating.

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