Friday, 18 October 2013


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= famous planning project under the Allende administration in Chile, stewarded by Stafford Beer




"Cybersyn’ comes from a synthesis of the two concepts driving the project, ‘cybernetics’ and ‘synergy’. The abbreviation ‘Synco’ conveyed the objective of the project, namely ‘Sistema de Informacion y Control’. The project name has also appeared as ‘Sinco’ or ‘Cinco'," (


From the Wikipedia:
"Project Cybersyn was a Chilean attempt at real-time computer-controlled planned economy in the years 1970–1973 (during the government of president Salvador Allende). It was essentially a network of telex machines that linked factories with a single computer centre in Santiago, which controlled them using principles of cybernetics. The principal architect of the system was British operations research scientist Stafford Beer." (


Nights of Labour blog:
"Owen Hatherley, the author of Militant Modernism, pointed out to me a project called Cybersyn, from the former socialist government in Chile in the early 1970s. I regret that I did not know before this project (, which was a real-time, computer controlled planning system, coordinating 500 nationalised factories in Chile. I then read the PhD thesis of Eden Miller submitted to MIT in 2005, which follows the traces of the project, the engineers who set it up, Chilean history in the 1970s. The thesis is a history of technology thesis, yet gives brilliant insights regarding possible models and designs which can be put at the service of a socialist practice…which is exactly what the communist laboratory is for. In this post I want to summarise the findings of Dr. Miller, which is the unique authoritative source on the subject and interpret them in my own way, by also offering some comparative outlook with Red Star’s statistical system of labour allocation.
Cybersyn originates in the work of a British professor called Stafford Beer who developed cybernetic ideas during the 1960s. A group of engineers was influenced by those ideas and when they took a position in Allende’s government invited Beer to set up a computerized system to coordinate 500 factories in Chile with the aims to increase worker participation and achieve efficiency at the shop floor. When Beer came to Chile, there was only one computer, which would be the main government computer at the center. The Cybersyn team used a telex network, which had been used to track satellites. Even though telex networks were only able to transmit ASCII characters, they were based on a high speed of information exchange similar to the Internet.
The first component of the system, Cybernet used the existing telex network in order to make every factory communicate with the main computer. Production information was sent from the factories to a telex control room where employees transferred the data onto punch cards and fed them into the mainframe computer for processing. The system was designed as a real-time economic control, similar to the Red Star’s statistical agencies, but in practice data was transmitted once a day. Telex networks are a brilliant bricoleur’s solution to the lack of available technology in the context of a developing country, which is subject to political hostility by imperialist powers. It shows how available resources can be creatively used for new purposes by change-driven individuals in a change-inducing environment.
The second component of the Cybersyn system, Cyberstride produced quantitative flow charts of activities within each factory. It did ‘statistical filtration on the numbers output from the factory models, discarding the data that fell within the acceptable system parameters and directing the information deemed important upward to the next level of management’ (Miller, 2005). The software developed certain methods to identify production trends and if a variable fell outside of the range determined by the system, the system made a warning, which was called an ‘algedonic signal’. The relevant person from the factory emitting the signal was given time and freedom to solve the problem. In case he was unsuccessful, the central management had the right to interfere. This principle was to preserve the autonomy of the lower-levels managers.
According to Miller, Cyberstride could be seen as an instrument to predict and map the behaviour of Chilean factories. The algorithm was based on Bayesian probability theory to foresee industrial performance. Since the government could rely on possible trends, it could intervene in advance. Beer wanted to keep the problem signals as simple as possible: sources of energy, raw materials, worker satisfaction present on a given day.
The third part of the Cybersyn project, CHECO (Chilean Economy) aimed at providing simulations of future economic behaviour. CHECO was designed to create the tools for planning and flexibility. But it was not really put into practice.
The fourth component of the system, Opsroom, created a new environment for decision making, which modeled after a British World War II War room. It consisted of seven chairs in an inward facing circle and a series of projection screens, each of them displaying the data collected from the nationalized (Miller, 2005). To enable individuals with minimal scientific training to understand the information, all industries were standardized with a uniform system of iconic representation. One of the walls in the room contained four screens, which represented structural information. The large screen contained instructions for changing the images displayed below, a mix of flow diagrams, factory photographs and unitless mappings of actual and potential production capacities. Two screens recorded algedonic signals on another wall, which represented overall production trends and listed urgent problems which required government intervention. This was based on Beer’s metaphor of the economy as a biological organism: Brain (government) intervening from the Opsroom in case problems in the lungs (factories) are not solved.
Miller shows, in her thesis, how ideas similar to Cybersyn were implemented in Soviet Union after several years of the publication of Red Star, when the utopia of Bolshevik Revolution became a reality. For instance, a complex three-tiered computer network that would use thousands of local computer centers collecting primary information was built. Those local centers would be linked to 30 to 50 computer centers in major cities and then all information would travel to one central government in Moscow. It was realized that this scheme would require the manipulation of fifty million variables more than the three thousand variables required to manage the Chilean economy with Cybersyn. Soviet economists tries to simplify this problem by using indirect centralization in which the state was responsible for determining optimal prices and efficiency levels and companies were allowed to make their own decisions. According to Miller, this solution seems very similar to Cybersyn, but there were important differences. In its infancy, the Chilean planning was more receptive to new ideas and challenges. The state development agency CORFO underwent a series of changes that allowed it to grow in different areas (public and mixed property) and to increase new management capabilities (such as adding of new layers of bureaucracy to pre-existing administrative hierarchy) In the Soviet context, factory autonomy contradicted the Soviet economic theory and threatened the centralised power of the State. Rather than being instruments of change, computer technology strengthened centralised control in Soviet Union. In other words, I would argue, it was not simply the combination of creative ideas of a crazy British professor and the dedication of a socialist team, which was behind the transformative capacity and efficiency of Cybersyn. Soviet Union had much more capacity to enact those. Rather, it was being open to new things, a critique of centralized planning of already existing socialist experiences and a very strict emphasis on worker participation which pushed individuals to think differently while playing with similar instruments. A different mind set made a difference in Chile as compared to Soviet Union.
Chilean system aimed to improve the efficacy of human interventions in the factory system. Automated functions were aimed to increase participation and intervention. The emphasis on worker control and participation was a recurrent theme in the debates on and implementation of Cybersyn." (

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The Operations Room (or Opsroom): a physical location where economic information was to be received, stored, and made available for speedy decision-making. It was designed in accordance with Gestalt principles in order to give users a platform that would enable them to absorb information in a simple but comprehensive way.[1]
Project Cybersyn was a Chilean project from 1971–1973 (during the government of President Salvador Allende) aimed at constructing a distributed decision support system to aid in the management of the national economy. The project consisted of four modules: an economic simulator, custom software to check factory performance, an operations room, and a national network of telex machines that were linked to one mainframe computer.[2]
Project Cybersyn was based on Viable system model theory and a neural network approach to organizational design, and featured innovative technology for its time: it included a network of telex machines (Cybernet) in state-run enterprises that would transmit and receive information with the government in Santiago. Information from the field would be fed into statistical modeling software (Cyberstride) that would monitor production indicators (such as raw material supplies or high rates of worker absenteeism) in real time, and alert the workers in the first case, and in unnormal situations also the central government, if those parameters fell outside acceptable ranges. The information would also be input into economic simulation software (CHECO, for CHilean ECOnomic simulator) that the government could use to forecast the possible outcome of economic decisions. Finally, a sophisticated operations room (Opsroom) would provide a space where managers could see relevant economic data, formulate responses to emergencies, and transmit advice and directives to enterprises and factories in alarm situations by using the telex network.
The principal architect of the system was British operations research scientist Stafford Beer, and the system embodied his notions of organisational cybernetics in industrial management. One of its main objectives was to devolve decision-making power within industrial enterprises to their workforce in order to develop self-regulation of factories.


The project's name in English (Cybersyn) is a portmanteau of the words "cybernetics" and "synergy". Since the name is not euphonic in Spanish, in that language the project was called Synco, both an initialism for the Spanish SYstema de iNformación y COntrol, "system of information and control", and a pun on the Spanish cinco, the number five, alluding to the five levels of Beer's Viable System Model.


In July 1971, Stafford Beer was contacted by Fernando Flores, then a high-level employee of the Chilean Production Development Corporation (CORFO), for advice on incorporating Beer's theories of cybernetics into the management of the newly nationalized sector of Chile's economy. Beer saw this as a unique opportunity to implement his ideas of cybernetic management on a national scale, and also sympathized with the stated ideals of Chilean socialism, which aimed to maintain Chile's democratic system and the autonomy of workers instead of imposing a Soviet-style system of top-down command and control. More than just offering advice, Beer stepped aside from most of his other consulting business and devoted a great deal of time to what became Project Cybersyn, traveling to Chile frequently to collaborate with local implementors and using his personal contacts to secure assistance from British technical experts. The implementation schedule was very aggressive, and the system had reached an advanced prototype stage at the start of 1973.
The system was most useful in October 1972, when about 50,000[citation needed] striking truck drivers blocked the access streets that converged towards Santiago. According to Gustavo Silva (executive secretary of energy in CORFO), using the system's telex machines, the government was able to guarantee the transport of food into the city with only about 200 trucks driven by strike-breakers, recouping the shortages caused by 40,000 striking truck drivers.[3]
After the military coup on September 11, 1973, Cybersyn was abandoned and the operations room was destroyed.

The system[edit]

There were 500 unused telex machines bought by the previous government, each was put into one factory. In the control centre in Santiago, each day data coming from each factory (several numbers, such as raw material input, production output and number of absentees) were put into a computer, which made short-term predictions and necessary adjustments. There were four levels of control (firm, branch, sector, total), with algedonic feedback (if lower level of control didn't remedy a problem in a certain interval, the higher level was notified). The results were discussed in the operations room and the top-level plan was made.
The software for Cybersyn was called Cyberstride, and it used Bayesian filtering and Bayesian control. It was written by Chilean engineers in consultation with a team of 12 British programmers.[4]
The futuristic operations room was designed by a team led by the interface designer Gui Bonsiepe. It was furnished with seven swivel chairs (considered the best for creativity) with buttons, which were designed to control several large screens that could project the data, and other panels with status information, although these were never functional and could only show pre-prepared graphs.[citation needed]
The project is described in some detail in the second edition of Beer's book Brain of the Firm, as well as in Platform for Change which includes proposals for such social innovations as bringing representatives of diverse 'stakeholder' groups into the control centre.

The aesthetics[edit]

The Ops room used Tulip chairs similar to those used in the American science fiction TV programme Star Trek, though according to the designers, the style was not influenced by sci-fi movies.[5]

References in popular culture[edit]

Chilean science fiction author Jorge Baradit published a Spanish-language science fiction novel Synco in 2008. It is an alternate history dystopia set in a 1979 where Allende's government was not overthrown and Chile became a technocratic totalitarian state in which the Cybersyn system was used to control all aspects of Chilean life.

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^ Cybersyn Chile - Opsroom
  2. Jump up ^ "IU professor analyzes Chile's 'Project Cybersyn'". UI News Room. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  3. Jump up ^ Eden Medina (2006). "Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende’s Chile". J. Lat. Amer. Stud. (Cambridge University Press) (38): 571–606. doi:10.1017/S0022216X06001179. 
  4. Jump up ^ Project Cybersyn |
  5. Jump up ^ Eden Medina (2011). Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile, 1st edn. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01649-0. section 4, p. 121.

External links[edit]

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