Betrothal and Betrayal: The Soviet Translation of Norbert Weiner's Early Cybernetics

Benjamin J. P. Peters


The early Cold War history (1948-1955) of cybernetics, or the study of information control and communication, offers an instructive footnote to 20th century history of media and communication. While also relevant to those interested in the international history of science and computing, this article treats the academic and ideological accommodation of Norbert Wiener's early seminal work on cybernetics into the Soviet academy primarily as an literary act historicized within the circumstances of Cold War politics. The first two articles in the Soviet press (1955) to translate Weiner's work favorably bear many ironies specific to the negotiated compromises of Cold War politics and cybernetics. To name two such ironies with contemporary relevance: the similarity between cooperation and cooptaton in military industrial support of scientific aids to peace and the ambiguity of the accommodationist character of cybernetics as an information system prelude to modern-day computing. Throughout, Peters argues that cybernetics, or communication history more generally, can be best understood through an international lens of analysis.

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