Soviet Cybernetics – Red Plenty

“Cybernetics attempts to find the common elements in the functioning of automatic machines and of the human nervous system, and to develop a theory which will cover the entire field of control and communication in machines and living organisms.” -Dr. Norbert Wiener writing in The Scientific American. Taken slightly less literally, in communist Russia, central planners sought to do just that. By describing the sprawling Soviet economy as a unified set of equations, all sharing a set of inputs and outputs, they believed they could efficiently plan and organize production to catch up and overtake their capitalist rivals. For a while, it appeared to be working, with annual increases in GDP surpassing all Western nations in the 1950s and 60s. By the 1970s, however, diminishing returns had clearly set in, with even admitted growth rates plummeting, leading to the USSR swallowing its pride and importing grain from America, saved arguably only by rising oil prices that enabled it to earn the foreign currency it needed to make up for its production shortfalls. With the microcomputer revolution taking hold in 1980s, Soviet economists hoped the increases in raw computational power would aid in overcoming the scaling issues of manual planning calculations, but by the 1990s, computers were the least of the issue, as the fundamental design limitations of a control system for everything broke loose of its moorings.

Myth of the 20th Century – Episode 229 – Soviet Cybernetics – Red Plenty

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Trung says:

    The early Christmas present I needed, thank you gentlemen.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. RayAndBri says:

    Ayeeee! Perfect timing!
    Also, I can’t WAIT for the annual year in review episode! Those are some of the absolute best.
    Additionally, I think you guys should use Gab more often! I don’t know if you guys have your own accounts or just the Myth20c one, but y’all should explore that platform some more! Already love following y’all on Twitter. I really wish Nick still had one tho lol

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Earl Shetland says:

    Top stuff! I’m going to suggest once again for an After Dark episode: The Prisoner TV series, 1967, 17 episodes.

    Look for a video titled “The Prisoner – Which Side Runs The Village?” and you’ll see why I bring it up now.

    There was a lot of interconnection and overlap between Soviet and Western cybernetics that does not always get discussed. Leontief spent much of his career at Harvard, and influenced Kenneth Iverson, creator of APL. John McCarthy, half-Irish half-Litvak, was born in Boston to Communist parents – and grew up to create not only LISP but the bedrock of Western thought on artificial intelligence.

    “When both sides see that they are staring into a mirror…”


    1. Adam Smith says:

      The Prisoner is of course excellent.

      APL looks very well designed for its day – kind of like Matlab for Mainframes.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. bannedhipster says:

    I liked Oslo’s point that the economic managers of the US in 1945 were more or less Stalinist.


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