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Paperback | ISBN: 9780262572255 | 378 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 30 illus.| September 2004
 

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Essential Info

From Newspeak to Cyberspeak

A History of Soviet Cybernetics

Overview

In this book, Slava Gerovitch argues that Soviet cybernetics was not just an intellectual trend but a social movement for radical reform in science and society as a whole. Followers of cybernetics viewed computer simulation as a universal method of problem solving and the language of cybernetics as a language of objectivity and truth. With this new objectivity, they challenged the existing order of things in economics and politics as well as in science.

The history of Soviet cybernetics followed a curious arc. In the 1950s it was labeled a reactionary pseudoscience and a weapon of imperialist ideology. With the arrival of Khrushchev's political "thaw," however, it was seen as an innocent victim of political oppression, and it evolved into a movement for radical reform of the Stalinist system of science. In the early 1960s it was hailed as "science in the service of communism," but by the end of the decade it had turned into a shallow fashionable trend. Using extensive new archival materials, Gerovitch argues that these fluctuating attitudes reflected profound changes in scientific language and research methodology across disciplines, in power relations within the scientific community, and in the political role of scientists and engineers in Soviet society. His detailed analysis of scientific discourse shows how the Newspeak of the late Stalinist period and the Cyberspeak that challenged it eventually blended into "CyberNewspeak."

Endorsements

"An exceptionally lively and interesting book. This is by far the best-informed and most insightful account of cybernetics in the Soviet Union."
David Holloway, Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History, Stanford University

"Cybernetics was among the most important intellectual movements of the mid-20th century. Nowhere was its curious blend of mathematical technique, ideology, information technology, and postmodern scientific universalism more controversial, or more interesting,  than in the Soviet Union during the early Cold War. Slava Gerovitch is among the first scholars to command the linguistic skills, the cultural resources, and the historical awareness to offer a definitive account. From Newspeak to Cyberspeak not only sheds new light on the byzantine intellectual world of the Soviet Union, but holds up a fascinating mirror to the West as well. This is a groundbreaking achievement that deserves a wide audience."
Paul N. Edwards, Director, Science, Technology and Society Program, University of Michigan

"Once in a while, a historian finds a specific set of developments that can be used to unfold the whole of a culture. Slava Gerovitch has done this with his excellent study of the Soviet cybernetic worldview in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. At once a set of feedback technologies and an ideal of technocratic governance, cybernetics touched on practically every aspect of post-war Soviet life: economics, physics, military strategy, philosophy and, not least of all, politics. Gerovitch has crafted this amalgam of technology and newspeak into a fascinating story, shedding great light on both Cold War science and modern Soviet history. It is a remarkable book."
Peter Galison, Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University

Awards

Honorable Mention for the 2003 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS)