Majority of the modern day networks, including the World Wide Web and the internet, have all drawn inspirations from real-world attempts to create or implement digital socialism and connectivity. The 1960s through the 1980s was an era characterized by harnessing technology and innovations, which focused on breaking through to alternative economic, political and social systems. The USSR, for instance, was a nation infected by an aesthetics of the machine. Innovators such as Lenin compared socialism achievement with nation electrification. New fields in Cybernetics- the study of information systems in terms of their mechanisms, human societies, and nature - inspired the Soviet economists to begin reimagining the economy command as a dynamic system that could recalibrate the planning flow in response to new inputs. As a result, the inspiration resulted in the emergence of the mainframe computing platform technologies which were predicted to provide the power to make the then though imagination to a possibility. Viktor Glushkov, a computer scientist from the Soviet Union, was the man behind the Idea. Moreover, although he did not succeed in seeing the project through, he made way for the modern day internet. Thus, this research paper endeavors to examine the failed and forgotten Soviet Internet that was developed by Viktor Glushkov: All-State Automated System was also referred to as OGAS.
From the late 1950s to mid-1980s, a group of computer scientist led by Viktor Glushkov attempted to develop a countrywide network of computers that was endeavored to streamline, upgrade and technologically improve the planned economy of the USSR. (Peters, 2016). Glushkov's colossally project was titled the All-State Automated System- that later came to be known as the OGAS. His projected proposed an extensive digital network that was to be implemented on the economy's pyramid structure. The system would comprise of close to twenty thousand mainframes computers at central production points and then linked to tens of thoughts of end-user computers to regional administrative centers. These centers would then send data to the central processing hub that was to build in Moscow (Reynolds, 2017).
The OGAS project was aimed at saving the Soviet's command economy by networking computers. Glushkov detailed technocratic mission was to connect, transmit, store, manage, and optimize the flow of data that the command economy constituted, under the directions of the Politburo and everyday managers, planners, and enterprise workers on a national scale (Peters, 2016). Moreover, OGAS project sought to optimize in real-time information exchange between national administrators, regional, factory managers, and workers. "Glushkov with his ambitious project sought to network and automatically manage the nation's struggling command economy (Peters, 2016, p. 5).
The OGAS infrastructure to stretch countrywide across preexisting telephony wires that preexisting military computer networks. The network was an extension of the Local Factory Control Computer Network that would transmit information to and from a centralized administrator (Peters, 2016, p. 108).
Distinctive features of the OGAS from the modern networks and perhaps the internet is that the OGAS was designed after the USSR economy and vast enough to serve a nation. Its initials ASU characterized the OGASU basic unit. ASU in full meant Automated Management System or local information and control system. The system allowed different units from different enterprises, which looped onsite mainframes systems into the industrial processes of a factory, or enterprise to provide real-time efficiencies, information, control, and feedback (Peters, 2016, p. 109). While the OGAS project network topology has initially been designed to be decentralized, there is a thin line between the project and the modern day cloud computing. Mari Eagar described a decentralized system as a subset of other distributed systems (Eagar, 2017). The network topology was also similar to the French Teletel network. The data pathways enabled convenient transit of information across the nations through the administrative access points, which inter-connected business enterprises. However, the model was disadvantages to the citizens because it did not allow direct communication between enterprises.
The network lines were to be overlaid on the pre-existing and new telephony wires. Similar to the modern day cloud computing terms and vocabulary, the OGAS project was to provide "collective access, remote access, and distance access on a massive scale to civilian users who could "access," "input," "receive," and "process" data related to the command economy. These terms, however, appear to be more descriptive of the contemporary cloud computing metaphor like upload, download, share, and stream"(Peters, 2016, p. 109).
The Social, Political, and Economic Conditions for the Development of OGAS.
As mentioned in the previous sections, the main aim of OGAS project was to save the entire Soviet economy command by a computer network. The network was meant to transmit, store, manage, and optimize data flows on a national scale (Peters, 2016, p. 106).
The OGAS project was proposed a few years after the disastrous outcome of the Second World War the USSR had not fully healthy from the economic aftermath of World War II. Moreover, the proposal was presented at a critical economic moment during the Cold War period. Although these factors were primarily contributed by political differences and powers between the Soviet forces and the American forces, an immediate economic problem that needed a quick solution (Baraniuk, 2016). The previous USSR dictator had "resorted to a forced march industrialization program that perpetuated Russia's patchwork economy into a rigid pyramid structure, "the output of factories and farms coordinated through targets set by regional authorities reporting to a central planning ministry" (Reynolds, 2017).
Another economic reason that spurred the development of the OGAS was the enormous waste of natural resources and human life. Numerous calculation errors resulted in chronic production overshoots and shortfall, which cascaded upwards and downwards the chain of command. Over three million officials by 1960 attempted to the substantial economic unfathomable data flows without success (Reynolds, 2017). To get the job done, collaborations from financial planners, to enterprise managers, and workers resorted to networks that intersected the hierarchies. The brilliant computer scientist and cyberneticist Glushkov proposal- although without success- what would have made the USSR a giant of the modern day internet provider.
There are not factual evidence of any political factors that led to the establishment of the OGAS project. However, Peter argues that the project was partly influenced by two political thoughts that had dominated the Soviet Union. While the project itself is, believe to be a communist ideology, much of the criticism and opposition came from the capitalists(Peters, 2016). However, the historical setting of the project began soon after 1953, after Joseph Stalin and stretched through the unstable political environment until the 1980s. As a result, the nation experienced an unusual urge to fill the political emptiness left. Scientists suggested that Stalin would be best replaced by computer-aided governance that would see the past abuse of Stroman state power diminish. The best replacement thus was to be the All-State Automated System which was a vision of the different socialist state information society (Reynolds, 2017).
The project was initially designed to cater for nation's economic command security in the future. However, users being able to transmit, share, store and manage data also inspired the network. According to Peter, similar to the modern day cloud computing terms and vocabulary, the OGAS project was to provide "collective access, remote access, and distance access on a massive scale to civilian users who could access, input, receive, and process data related to the command economy. These terms, however, appear to be more descriptive of the contemporary cloud computing metaphor like upload, download, share, and stream" (Peters, 2016, p. 109).
Unfortunately, Glushkov's brilliant idea was never implemented. The contributing factors to the failure of the 'Soviet Internet' were the enormous cost that was to be involved in fully implementing the OGAS project. It was estimated the price to see the project through would be twenty billion rubles- slightly over a hundred billion dollars in today's currency value. The project also required over three hundred thousand workforces, an partly because the then Mister of finance feared that the project did not have a defined line which separated the ministry powers from the central government control. "The OGAS was to become the Soviet equivalent of the national economy imagined as a single factory, with one interactive industrial control system serving it across a national computer network in real time" (Peters, How Not to Network a Naion; The uneasy history of the soviet internet, 2016).
Baraniuk, C. (2016, October 26). Long before the World Wide Web, the Soviets tried to save the USSR with a computer network. Why did their project never make it? Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161026-why-the-forgotten-soviet-internet-was-doomed-from-the-start
Eagar, M. (2017, November 4). What is the difference between decentralized and distributed systems? Retrieved from Digital futures: https://medium.com/distributed-economy/what-is-the-difference-between-decentralized-and-distributed-systems-f4190a5c6462
Peters, B. (2016, May 2). Excerpts from How Not to Network A Nation, The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from Firstmonday.org: https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6689/5482#author
Peters, B. (2016). How Not to Network a Naion; The uneasy history of the soviet internet. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: The MIT Press.
Peters, B. (2016, October 17). The Soviet InterNyet. (Curio, Ed.) Retrieved February 25, 2019, from AEON: https://aeon.co/essays/how-the-soviets-invented-the-internet-and-why-it-didn-t-work
Reynolds, J. (2017). The Soviet web: the tale of how the USSR almost invented the internet. The Calvert Journal. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/7605/soviet-internet-cybernetics-viktor-glushkov
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