Future blogger Alexei Barrionuevo writing in the New York Times:
When military forces loyal to Gen. Augusto Pinochet staged a coup [in Santiago, Chile] in September 1973, they made a surprising discovery. Salvador Allende’s Socialist government had quietly embarked on a novel experiment to manage Chile’s economy using a clunky mainframe computer and a network of telex machines. [Who you callin’ clunky?]
The project, called Cybersyn, was the brainchild of A. Stafford Beer, a visionary Briton who employed his “cybernetic” concepts to help Mr. Allende find an alternative to the planned economies of Cuba and the Soviet Union. After the coup it became the subject of intense military scrutiny. [Yes, I imagine it did.]
In developing Cybersyn, Mr. Beer changed the lives of the bright young Chileans he worked with here. Some 35 years later, this little-known feature of Mr. Allende’s abortive Socialist transformation was remembered in an exhibit in a museum beneath La Moneda, the presidential palace.
A Star Trek-like chair with controls in the armrests [they ain’t kidding — check out the photo] was a replica of those in a prototype operations room. Mr. Beer planned for the room to receive computer reports based on data flowing from telex machines connected to factories up and down this 2,700-mile-long country. Managers were to sit in seven of the contoured chairs and make critical decisions about the reports displayed on projection screens. [Brilliant! CTU for the economy!]
…Cybersyn was born in July 1971 [the month and year your faithful blogger was born… this is blowing my mind…] when Fernando Flores, then a 28-year-old government technocrat, sent a letter to Mr. Beer seeking his help in organizing Mr. Allende’s economy by applying cybernetic concepts. Mr. Beer was excited by the prospect of being able to test his ideas. [Boy, I’ll bet he was — can you imagine?]
He wanted to use the telex communications system — a network of teletypewriters — to gather data from factories on variables like daily output, energy use and labor “in real time,” and then use a computer to filter out the important pieces of economic information the government needed to make decisions.
Mr. Beer set up teams of computer programmers in England and Chile, and began making regular trips to Santiago to direct the project…
You do have to give them credit for one thing — it would have been a better plan than the standard “make s*** up” strategy pursued by so many other politicians.
This dude deserves to go in the history books alongside Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson, that’s for sure.
And tell me you’ve never wanted to sit in a chair like that…
[Hat tip: Kids Prefer Cheese.]