Staging the OGAS, 1962 to 1969 115

The Visionary behind the Vast Network: Viktor Glushkov

Viktor Glushkov (1923–1982), who was called the “king of Soviet cybernet-

ics” in his New York Times obituary, was neither the first nor the last to pro-

pose a nationwide network. But he figures as the organizing protagonist of

the remaining history as the leading champion of the OGAS Project, a well-

positioned academician, vice president of the Academy of Sciences, and a

leading cyberneticist. Known as both a global thinker and a local doer from a

young age, Viktor Mikhailovich Glushkov was born in the temperate south-

ern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on August 23, 1923, into a family of a

mining engineer (figure 4.3). Like many prominent Soviet figures, he excelled

in mathematics at a young age and in middle school dreamed of becom-

ing a theoretical physicist. In high school, he quickly grasped topics such

as quantum mechanics and absorbed classics in the original German from

Johann von Goethe to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s The Philosophy of His-

tory. In 1941, the Nazis executed his mother for her part in the underground

resistance. After failing to enlist in the artillery school for health reasons, he

turned to mathematics in college, dove into topological algebra, and gradu-

ated in 1948. Four years later, including two years to complete his doctorate

while holding a research position at a new nuclear center in Yekaterinburg

(then Sverdlovsk) in central Russia, he proposed solutions to David Hilbert’s

generalized fifth problem in 1952. In 1900, in Paris, the German mathema-

tician David Hilbert proposed twenty-three foundational problems that

have attracted much attention in modern mathematics since. Two of those

problems are considered unresolvable, and the fifth problem, parts of which

Glushkov tackled, involves smooth manifolds in Lie group theory. The initial

breakthrough came to him while he was climbing an ice field on Mt. Kazbek

in the Caucasus with his wife, Valentina Mikhailovna. Six months later he

had formalized the shortest solution to that problem to that day.

This feat guaranteed that in the mid-1950s, the rising algebraist could

have secured almost any position in the Soviet Union. Thanks to an intro-

duction from academician Boris Vladimirovich Gnedenko, Glushkov

became acquainted with Lebedev’s computing center in Kiev, which six

years later (in 1962) he transformed into the prominent Institute of Cyber-

netics. He directed the institute from 1962 until his death in 1983. When

asked why he chose to shift his attention to the intersection of computer

technology and mathematics and subsequently assume the directorship of

a Computing Center from Sergei Lebedev in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1956—and

not a more politically prestigious position in Moscow—he is reported to

have replied that his wife, Valentina, whom he had met in their third year