Mark Hurrell.


Learnings from Cybersysn

25 September 2018

Me, on my way into work this morning:
Huh, what was that Evgeny Morozov article years ago about Cybersyn?

Me, 15min later after googling for a bit:
Riiiight. Well that’s probably why I didn’t blog about it at the time.

This final paragraph!

Before designing Project Cybersyn, Stafford Beer used to complain that technology 'seems to be leading humanity by the nose.' After his experience in Chile, he decided that something else was to blame. If Silicon Valley, rather than Santiago, has proved to be the capital of management cybernetics, Beer wasn't wrong to think that Big Data and distributed sensors could be enlisted for a very different social mission. While cybernetic feedback loops do allow us to use scarce resources more effectively, the easy availability of fancy thermostats shouldn't prevent us from asking if the walls of our houses are too flimsy or if the windows are broken. A bit of causal thinking can go a long way. For all its utopianism and scientism, its algedonic meters and hand-drawn graphs, Project Cybersyn got some aspects of its politics right: it started with the needs of the citizens and went from there. The problem with today's digital utopianism is that it typically starts with a PowerPoint slide in a venture capitalist's pitch deck. As citizens in an era of Datafeed, we still haven't figured out how to manage our way to happiness. But there's a lot of money to be made in selling us the dials.

Evgeny Morozov, The Planning Machine, Project Cybersyn and the origins of the Big Data nation

Needless to say, having predecessors like this – with all the critique and analysis of them that we can learn from – is invaluable. Means we can learn from their mistakes. It’s one of the reasons why we make such a big deal about user research and service design. Start with user needs.

If you want to chat more about stuff like this, send me an email or get in touch on Twitter.