How Not to Network a Nation. The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet

(Ben Green) #1

Staging the OGAS, 1962 to 1969 117

am, exercised, breakfasted, went to work, returned home in the evening,
and continued working until about 2:00 or 3:00 am. In 1963, as the first
director of the brand new Institute of Cybernetics, his work habits reached
a feverish pitch and then broke. Valentina recalled that he worked eigh-
teen to twenty hours a day until at age forty, he suddenly collapsed from
a brain seizure. (A tumor of the medulla likely ended his life twenty years
later.) Undeterred and still bound to his hospital bed, he finished the intro-
duction to his Lenin Prize–winning book, The Design of Digital Automatic
Machines. His intense persistence of mind rendered possible his mathemati-
cal achievements, and his vision was shortsighted since youth due to his
voracious reading habits. It is not known whether this contributed to his
protracted struggle with a fatal brain tumor.
Fluent enough in German and English to lecture and publish abroad in
those languages (having once recited excerpts from Goethe from memory
for two hours to win a bet), Glushkov figures as a consummate informa-
tion universalist, even among cyberneticists, for whom practically every
challenge reduced to, as his colleague and fellow computer pioneer Boris
Malinovsky put it, “the global problem of the computerization of informa-
tion sharing.”^11 Committed to building computer networks that share infor-
mation, his subsequent research goals pushed him to generalize his applied
innovations further and further. Some characteristic examples include
career examinations in not just specialized computing but multipurpose
control computing; not just von Neumann computing processor architec-
ture but “massively parallel macro-piping” and a recursive base for frac-
tal processing in computer architecture; not just computer programming
but natural-language computer programming; not just robots but entirely
digital automata; not just bureaucracy but paperless offices and informat-
ics; and in the end, not just a better economic life for private humans and
our collective humankind but an even bolder and more remote future. He
identified in the inevitable evolution of artificial intelligence the possibility
of “informational immortality,” where the subjective consciousness, mem-
ories, and personalities of individuals and societies might be transferred
into a global network that was capable of outlasting the ages, resurrect-
ing and recasting civilization as we know it.^12 Because they reach so far,
the endpoints of these various research initiatives begin to express in relief
the grander vision that organized his personal commitment to the OGAS
Project as the next step in networking onto the higher plane of the grand
collective of socialist labor.^13 For Glushkov, the OGAS Project represented a
vehicle for achieving the whole of his many scalable visions.

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