The computer, tool of capitalism

An unforced mistake of Stalin's Soviet Union: to condemn the computer as a capitalist tool and pour scorn on "cynernetics", dooming official work to the shadows.

Working with computers required special care: One had to avoid using any suspicious cybernetic terms. Even the phrase “logical operations” was risky, because it might be interpreted as implying that machines could think. Instead of “computer memory,” researchers used the more neutral, technical term, “storage.” “Information” was replaced by “data,” and “information theory” by the convoluted expression “the statistical theory of electrical signal transmission with noise.” A joke about Stalin’s henchman, Beria, who was responsible for the nuclear weapons program, became popular. Beria comes to his boss and asks permission to use the notorious field of cybernetics for military purposes. Stalin puffs on his pipe and says, “Okay, but just please make sure the other Politburo members don’t find out.”

Bonus: Now you know what the deal was with Dune. Despite Stalin's death improving matters for the thinking machines, everyday users in Russia were still puttering along on rickety clones 25 years later. Read the rest

Soviet particle accelerator control panel, 1968

Back in 2009, Dark Roasted Blend rounded up a truly wonderful gallery of ancient, hulking computers, called The Cutting Edge of Retro Tech . Given that retro-tech only gets finer with age, it's fitting to link to it now, especially given this magnificent beast, identified as the 1968 Control Center of the JINR's (Joint Institute of Nuclear Research) synchrophasotron in Dubna, Russia. Hotcha, that is some sweet-ass control panel design Read the rest

Soviet synthesizer bridged occultism and electronic music

You don't play the ANS synthesizer with a keyboard. Instead you etch images onto glass sheets covered in black putty and feed them into a machine that shines light through the etchings, trigging a wide range of tones. Etchings made low on the sheets make low tones. High etchings make high tones. The sound is generated in real-time and the tempo depends on how fast you insert the sheets.

This isn't a new Dorkbot or Maker Faire oddity. It's a nearly forgotten Russian synthesizer designed by Evgeny Murzin in 1938. The synth was named after and dedicated to the Russian experimental composer and occultist Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872–1915). The name might not mean much to you, but it illuminates a long running connection between electronic music and the occult. Read the rest

Soviet proto-Photoshop ca. 1987

Via the BB Submitterator, Boing Boing reader Yenisei says,

Three years before Photoshop 1.0, Soviet computer engineers were already retouching old, damaged images using this amazing piece of technology. Rotary scanner! Magnetic tape! Trackball! "Z for zoom"! And, of course, Didier Marouani, the hippest electronic music available in the USSR at the time.

Video Link: Советский Ñ„оÑ‚ошоп - круче! Read the rest

Soviet computers from the Cold War tech-race

Steve Silberman sez, "The Cold War computing race from the Russian side, including the development of the MESM -- for 'Small Electronic Counting Machine' -- powered by more than 6000 vacuum tubes."

Building digital computers in Soviet post-war Russia was a dangerous business. To protect himself and his staff from criticism that could end in them being sent to labour camps, Russian computer pioneer Sergei Lebedev of the Kiev Electro-Technical Institute declared that the computers they wanted to build would carry out only ideologically correct calculations.

Described as 'the Soviet Alan Turing', Lebedev had been thinking about how to build a computer since 1948, and by the end of 1949 he had the basic principles down on paper. In a climate of deep suspicion, Lebedev assembled a team of 12 designers and 15 technicians at a disused monastery at Feofania, near Kiev, and gave it the seemingly ironic name 'Secret Laboratory Number One'...

The Russian System/360 clone was called the ES EVM, and it soon became widely available in Russia. In 1972, the year that the ES EVM was released, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev virtually admitted what was going on when he told a meeting of officials, "We communists have to string along with the capitalists for a while. We need their credits, their agriculture and their technology."

Theft quickly became the principal way that Russian computing kept pace with the West. In 1975, production began of a clone of the influential DEC PDP-11/40 minicomputer. Called the SM-4, it featured multiple video terminals and twin magnetic tape units - just like the real thing.

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