Book launch "HOW NOT TO NETWORK A NATION: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet"

Event date: 20.06.2017 Time: 17:00 Hall: Lecture Room 429 (Golden Hall) Organizer: Center for Science and Technology Studies Speaker: Бенджамин Петерс, University of Tulsa

The talk will be given within the Data and Society under socialism and beyond Workshop.

"How not to network a nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet" (MIT Press, 2016).

Between 1959 and 1989, Soviet scientists and officials made numerous attempts to network their nation--to construct a nationwide computer network. None of these attempts succeeded, and the enterprise had been abandoned by the time the Soviet Union fell apart. Meanwhile, ARPANET, the American precursor to the internet, went online in 1969. Why did the Soviet network, with top-level scientists and patriotic incentives, fail while the American network succeeded? In this presentation, Benjamin Peters reverses the usual cold war dualities and argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments, and the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others. The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists.

The book, glossed in this talk, builds on this uneasy reversal: after examining the midcentury rise of cybernetics, the science of self-governing systems, and the emergence in the Soviet Union of economic cybernetics, Peters complicated this uneasy role reversal while chronicling the various Soviet attempts to build a "unified information network." Drawing on previously unknown archival and historical materials, he focuses on the final and most ambitious of these projects, the All-State Automated System of Management (OGAS), and its principle promoter, Viktor M. Glushkov. Peters describes the rise and the fall of OGAS--its theoretical and practical reach, its vision of a national economy managed by network, the bureaucratic obstacles it encountered, and the institutional stalemate that undid it. Finally, he considers the implications of the Soviet experience for today's network world.


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