Salvador Allende the Orwellian Technophile

In the Wrong Hands: Machine A Gouverner,” by Theodore Roszak, The Cult of Information, ppg 200-201, 1986.

I bet you didn’t know the former Marxist leader of Chile, Salvador Allende:

Perhaps the most ambitious effort at applying information technology to the art of government took place in Chile in the early 1970s. Then President Salvador Allende brought in the British cybernetics expert Stafford Beer to develop and administer and optimum economic order for the country. Working from the formula, “information is what changes us; information constitutes control,” Beer had brainstormed an intricate computerized system which he quaintly called the Liberty Machine. Its purpose was to concentrate every scrap of data available from a national, or even from the world economy, and form this to fashion a “cybernetic model.” The computers governing the model would “receive real-time data from the systems which they monitor, and they would distill the information content.” It would be possible to “formulate hypotheses, undertake simulations, and make predictions about world trajectories. Between 1971 and 1973, Beer, working in secret for the Ministry of Finance, sought to establish something called the Liberty Machine in Chile. The effort was a serious one, installed at great expense in a central control room (“the Opsroom”) in Santiago, where is succeeded at the height of its powers in bringing 60 percent of the Chilean economy into its data gathering and governing network. The system included the ability to anticipate and break strikes. Beer has reported: “We used every scrap of relevant scientific knowledge in designing the place — neurocybernetic knowledge of brain processes, knowledge from applied and group psychology, knowledge from ergonomics. ” The exercise entailed an interesting new conception of “freedom.” Liberty,” Beer decided, “may indeed be usefully redefined for our current technological era. It would say that competent information is free to act — and that this is the principle on which the new Liberty Machine should be designed.” It is a definition that makes the computer an integral part of the concept.

Thank God Augusto Pinochet vanquished Allende and saved Chile.

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