Using some of the basic principles of cybernetics theory—communication and control—Stafford Beer, a consultant to the newly-elected Salvador Allende government (1970–73), devised a plan to enable a dynamic, socialist-driven transformation of the Chilean economy.

Building on Jay Forrester’s theories of system dynamics, and specifically his book Industrial Dynamics (1961), Beer laid out a strategy to capture information feedback from workers, managers, suppliers, shippers and consumers across the country. This data was used to produce a list of relevant indicators that could be monitored and, in turn, used to make adjustments in planning or to redirect goods and supplies.

Project Cybersyn was composed of four key elements: a national network of teletype machines that would capture information in real time; an IBM System/360 Model 50 computer (1965) running a purpose-built version of Dynamo software for simulating system dynamics models; an Operations Room where ongoing analysis of the received data would provide key indicators; and the resulting indicators used to provide feedback to the producers, shippers and consumers, and to make necessary adjustments.

After two years of development, Project Cybersyn launched in February 1973. Beer struggled to maintain the project’s goal for greater worker autonomy within a system that was consultative at all levels. These concerns, however, were overshadowed by the Allende government’s struggle to maintain its autonomy. In September 1973, Allende was murdered in a CIA-backed military coup led by General Pinochet, and the Cybersyn Operations Room was destroyed.

Text To Speech

Gui Bonsiepe, Project Cybersyn Operations Room, 1972–73, video animation, Design: Product Development Group, INTEC, Santiago de Chile. 1972/73 © Gui Bonsiepe