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

(Ben Green) #1

Staging the OGAS, 1962 to 1969 127

was known for a series of subsequent impressive achievements. Researchers
at that facility developed the “Dnieper” computer series, which powered
the base stations for Soviet cosmonaut flight south of Moscow while press-
ing the frontiers of Soviet information science and technology. The insti-
tute also is known for developing the mainframe and early microcomputers
Mir and Promin and a range of research on economic cybernetics, medical
cybernetics, artificial intelligence, optimization, and defense research. The
projects included the first network project to digitize the entire command
economy and their central project—the OGAS and its technical base EGSVT
beginning in 1963. In all, the official histories convey the gravitas that one
would expect from one of the elite teams of Soviet scientists.
A closer look at the local practices of these institutions, however, sheds a
very different light on this moment of Soviet optimism. The years 1962 and
1963 marked the height of enthusiasm for a young, entrepreneurial, and
surprisingly humorous and mischievous group of cyberneticists. Lebedev’s
laboratory was situated in a forest that was enchanted with Slavic legends.
Overrun by songbirds, rabbits, mushrooms, and berries in the summer and
haunted in the winter by rumors of wolves and Baba Yaga (the famous

Figure 4.4
The MESM (small electronic calculating machine) and its team in the monastery near
the cathedral in Theophania, 1952.

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