The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America

The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America

by Paul N. Edwards
     
 

ISBN-10: 0262550288

ISBN-13: 9780262550284

Pub. Date: 08/01/1997

Publisher: MIT Press

The Closed World offers a radically new alternative to the canonical histories of computers and cognitive science. Arguing that we can make sense of computers as tools only when we simultaneously grasp their roles as metaphors and political icons, Paul Edwards shows how Cold War social and cultural contexts shaped emerging computer technology -- and were

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Overview

The Closed World offers a radically new alternative to the canonical histories of computers and cognitive science. Arguing that we can make sense of computers as tools only when we simultaneously grasp their roles as metaphors and political icons, Paul Edwards shows how Cold War social and cultural contexts shaped emerging computer technology -- and were transformed, in turn, by information machines.

The Closed World
explores three apparently disparate histories -- the history of American global power, the history of computing machines, and the history of subjectivity in science and culture -- through the lens of the American political imagination. In the process, it reveals intimate links between the military projects of the Cold War,
the evolution of digital computers, and the origins of cybernetics, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence.

Edwards begins by describing the emergence of a "closed-world discourse" of global surveillance and control through high-technology military power. The Cold War political goal of
"containment" led to the SAGE continental air defense system, Rand Corporation studies of nuclear strategy, and the advanced technologies of the Vietnam War. These and other centralized, computerized military command and control projects -- for containing world-scale conflicts -- helped closed-world discourse dominate Cold War political decisions. Their apotheosis was the Reagan-era plan for a " Star
Wars
" space-based ballistic missile defense.

Edwards then shows how these military projects helped computers become axial metaphors in psychological theory. Analyzing the Macy Conferences on cybernetics, the Harvard
Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory, and the early history of artificial intelligence, he describes the formation of a "cyborg discourse." By constructing both human minds and artificial intelligences as information machines, cyborg discourse assisted in integrating people into the hyper-complex technological systems of the closed world.

Finally, Edwards explores the cyborg as political identity in science fiction -- from the disembodied, panoptic AI of 2001: A Space
Odyssey
, to the mechanical robots of Star Wars and the engineered biological androids of Blade Runner -- where
Information Age culture and subjectivity were both reflected and constructed.

Inside Technology series

The MIT Press

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262550284
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
08/01/1997
Series:
Inside Technology
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
462
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1"We Defend Every Place": Building the Cold War World1
2Why Build Computers?: The Military Role in Computer Research43
3SAGE75
4From Operations Research to the Electronic Battlefield113
5Interlude: Metaphor and the Politics of Subjectivity147
6The Machine in the Middle: Cybernetic Psychology and World War II175
7Noise, Communication, and Cognition209
8Constructing Artificial Intelligence239
9Computers and Politics in Cold War II275
10Minds, Machines, and Subjectivity in the Closed World303
Epilogue: Cyborgs in the World Wide Web353
Notes367
Index429

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