Free As In Beer: Cybernetic Science Fictions

6 December, 2009

For the past year or so, Jem Axelrod and I have been working on a research project focusing on the history of computing. Last month, we presented the first product of that collaboration at the 2009 Pacific Ancient and Modern Languages Conference in San Francisco.

The paper was titled Free As In Beer: Cybernetic Science Fictions. It told the story of Project Cybersyn, an early 70s socialist pseudo-internet built by British cyberneticist Stafford Beer in Chile. We explored how Beer's writing, infographics, and industrial design worked together to create a science fictional narrative of omniscience and ominpotence for Salvador Allende's socialist government.

Recently, Jem and I put together a video version of this paper and put together a site for the larger project, which we're calling, Computer Science Fictions. The site is pretty basic for now, but we'll add to it as the research project progresses.

In working on the paper I've had a number of interesting conversations with various outside advisors including Clay Shirky who suggested thinking about the parallels with the East German Stasi, Tom Igoe who helped me work through some of the actual circuit diagrams in the Project Cybersyn documentation, and Matt Webb from Berg London who's in the midst of his own Cybernetics research project (much of Webb's thinking on the subject is beautifully summarized in his recent Web Directions South Keynote: Escalante). I just wanted to take a moment to publicly thank these three as I haven't had the chance to do so elsewhere.

We'll be continuing this project along many different avenues going forward including exploring the relationship between AI research and the early video game industry. For now, without further ado, the video:

Free As In Beer: Cybernetic Science Fictions from Greg Borenstein on Vimeo.