ISBN 9780262050517,The Closed World - Computers & the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America

The Closed World - Computers & the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America


Mit Press



Mit Press

Publication Year 1996

ISBN 9780262050517

ISBN-10 026205051X


Number of Pages 458 Pages
Language (English)


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.