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The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Inside Technology) [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Paul N. Edwards


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April 1996 Inside Technology
"The Closed World" offers an 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. 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 apothesis was the Reagan-era plan for a 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 work of 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 helped integrate people into the hypercomplex technological systems of the closed world. Finally, Edwards explores the cyborg as political identity in science fiction - from the disembodied, panoptic AI of "2001" 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.

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Edwards traces how computers have emerged as the dominant technology as a direct result of Cold War politics and the defense research it engendered. From the first use of room-size mainframes to coordinate missile systems, Pentagon research aimed toward complete computer control, including the budget-busting and ultimately impractical Strategic Defensive Initiative. Edwards relates how the technolog--which is now so open as to be nearly anarchic--began in strictly enclosed secrecy. The military computer goal of perfect "command, control and communication" systems was understood to mean communication only within a very closed world. Edwards' thesis is that this approach influenced the very structure of our modern computers.

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"A fascinating glimpse into the history of computing and a cogentreminder of the extent to which this history continues to inform ourvision of the future." Grant Kester , The Nation " The Closed World is astonishing. One of the most important books ofthe 20th century." Howard Rheingold , editor, Whole Earth Review -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Taschenbuch .

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This book is about computers, as machines and as metaphors, in the politics and culture of Cold War America. Lesen Sie die erste Seite
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21 von 41 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Missing the point? 16. Oktober 2000
Von Edward G. Nilges - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch
While this is an excellent and sensitive overview of the history of computer science from a critical standpoint, it may miss the essential point.
This is that while the announced intention of Cold War data systems efforts was to indeed provide a logically closed structure that would ensure national security and a narrow form of economic growth (which excluded unions from power), as Edwards himself reveals, these systems in significant ways failed to accomplish their technical goals.
The problem is that people with the traditional liberal suspicion of computers miss either this fact or fail to grasp its significance. Edwards fails to grasp its significance.
What it means is that on the ground, in the apparently highly controlled mainframe computer rooms, a highly "open" and possibly even "green" for of chaos operated as software (in one noted example) bayed at the moon when it mistook the moon for a missile. This chaos was presented as its opposite in a rhetorical trick which conceals the labor, and in some cases the very existence, of software creation.
The troubling fact, invisible to humanists outside the field, is that the upper-level administrators of these systems did not really care that they did not work, as long as the public viewed them as a closed and working system. They'd also prefer to conceal the origins of the software that controls these systems in labor and in writing.
Edwards in the main fails to link this rhetorical sleight-of-hand to C. Wright Mills' work in which the general public is systematically deceived, and a white-collar class creates the tools of its own destruction.
The Sage air defense system did not work and did not, in fact, protect the United States from attack: what protected us from attack was the decision of men to back down from macho and nuclear-armed confrontation, including Eisenhower's decision to not back Britain, France and Israel in 1956's Suez crisis and Nikita Krushchev's decision to back down in 1962 over Cuba.
The real technical illusion is not that the closed world is "better than" the green world. It is to not fully close digital worlds but to present them as closed, and to prevent the rules of their closure from public oversight, and control.
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