Project Cybersyn and Military Fridges: Citation Needed 4×02

January 20, 2020

This is the Technical Difficulties, we’re playing Citation Needed. Joining me today, he reads books you know, it’s Chris Joel. [mumbles] I’ve got something in my teeth. Everybody’s favourite Gary Brannan, Gary Brannan. Insert power cable here. Where? Oh, you know. You committed to that. I didn’t think you ‘d go for that one. I didn’t think you’d go right in it. Urgh! And the bounciest man on the Internet, Matt Gray. Bienvenue, YouTube! In front of me I have an article from Wikipedia and these folks can’t see it. Every fact they get right is a point and a ding [ding]. And there’s a special prize for a particularly good answers, which is… And today we are talking about Project Cybersyn. Oh! Oh…! Oh… There are many cyber sins. Is it a campaign by the Church of England to absolve robots of their sins? No, and it is spelt S Y N. Oh come on! This is a novel or something. Nope. This is entirely real. But I’ll admit it sounds a little bit science fictiony. So is it sin or synthetic? It’s an abbreviation of something. I’ll give you one point for that [ding]. Ah, synergy… Point! [ding] Wahey, uh-huh! It is indeed a portmanteau of cybernetics and synergy. Is it a government policy somewhere? Ooh! Yes, have a point [ding]. Does anyone want to guess where in the world… AMERICA! Which bit? [bad Southern US accent] The South. Now… if I said the… Whatever the answer was correct, is the one I meant. Yes Gary, have a point. It’s in South America. [ding] Yea! Chile. No, I’m fine, I’ve got a jumper on. I deliberately didn’t pronounce it ‘chilly’, just so you wouldn’t do that joke. Sod it! It’s happening anyway. Deal with it. I say, to be fair, all that did was to make you sound really pretentious. Yes. [Posh accent] Chile. [Posh accent] Chile, I think you will find it’s pronounced. I think you’ll find it’s pronounced “CHYLE”. That’s what Jimi Hendrix says. That’s what we does. It’s not Voodoo Chilli. Or maybe it should be that. [Posh accent] It’s Voodoo Chilé. [Posh accent] Voodoo Chilé? [Posh accent] Voodoo Chilé. You know it’s one of those sleeveless jackets. But you become a zombie when you put it on. A voodoo gilet! I’m so puffy and warm and… BRAINS! Chile is the far left of bottom America, right? It is. For most of the way down. Bottom America! Far left of bottom America. You navigate like I do. It’s the long one, isn’t it? Yes. It’s the long thin one that goes all the way down one side. We went to school you know. About when are we talking about? When would you expect to see… Lunch time! 2:30! Two men swinging at the same ball there, eh? It’s like one of those out takes from a baseball game, where you see two people running for the same ball. What decade… would you expect to hear Project Cybersyn? — If this isn’t ’80s, I am disappointed.
— 70s? You’re going to be disappointed, it’s the ’70s. Have a point, Matt [ding] Are we making South American robots? 1971 to 1973. Is that when they took over and killed everyone? No… South America in that era. That’s a dubious joke to be making. That’s what ended Project Cybersyn, was a military coup that destroyed the control room. So yes… but(!) It was a military [pigeon noise] Military coo… Pigeons are coming! Release the robots! Sir, the robots aren’t finished. The pigeons are pecking them to pieces! Oh, what a world! Sir. The robots… …ARE pigeons. [Pigeon coos]
— Oh my god! I can’t take my glasses off, I’m wearing contacts. [Pigeon coos] [Robotic buzz] My God! [Robotic buzz] [Pigeon coos] [Quietly] I don’t like this. What I’d like in a robot pigeon is two things. One, someone would have to spend ages perfecting that pigeon walk… so that their heads go back and forwards at the same speed they walk still. That’s easy. You just put another linkage across their of their neck and have it link to the back of their forehead. That’s a modern gyro that’s got to try and not compensate for that. And the other is, they’ll still make it so they pick up cigarette butts. Every pigeon in the square, moving in unison. Aargh! That would be creepy. Oh, we’ve gone too far now. Laser eyes. Yeah, natch. Obviously. They can’t hold one, they’ve got wings dammit! It’s not going to flap its wings to fly. It’s going to have a rocket up its bum. For those of you just tuning in, Project Cybersyn…
is not robot pigeons. I can just see a whole Trafalgar Square of pigeons… just stopping, wings extending and just them all launching upwards… in synergy. Now that’s a beaut… compared to them all turning round to look at you in synergy, that’s a beautiful image. Project Cybersyn… gentlemen. Robot pigeons, wasn’t it? Robot, rocket-arsed pigeons.
We’ve confirmed this already, Tom. Chile. 1970s… early 1970s as well. Was it a public computing project? Ooh! You can have a point [ding].
But what do you mean by public? A terminal in a cafe for someone — for everyone to use. No. Not quite. One of these state sponsored, productivity drives, that is going to put robots in factories. To make things more efficient. Yeah, you keep doing this… ‘Is it a state sponsored productivity… robots… in that…’ No…. no. State sponsored. You know I will give you a point. State sponsored productivity [ding]. Because, you know, socialist government then. What were they trying to do? Get everyone computing? Teach computer literacy? Yeah, but that’s too early. That’s ’70s. Way too early. The thing then was all about improving productivity in workplaces… because that’s where places ended up with, like, robotic shop floors and stuff. So is it to do with shipping and transport and integrated movement of goods and stuff like that? Yes! Have a point [ding] Databases isn’t it? And you have a point as well [ding]. It was an attempt to plan the economy of Chile…. Using one massive computer system. Now! As this had a very short period of time working. Do I assume it wasn’t entirely successful? And everyone ended up burning down? No, it did actually have a bit of success. Did it declare humans as ‘no longer essential’? No, they managed to switch it on. To look at the errors in the code. The screen flashes ‘you’re better off with a coup’. I know nothing about the politicals here. I don’t know if that’s even appropriate. “We’ve turned it on and all the screen says is ‘Death!'” All the state-run factories were given a computer terminal where they typed all their details of what was happening. And that got fed back to…? The president’s office. The mainframe. A fellow in very small glasses with a slide rule. Matt’s closer [ding]. America! No. It was a central control room in Chile. Complete with, what? Coffee machine? Toilets? There was a lot of manu… If this was the ’70s, a strike! I’ll tell you what, have a point [ding]. It helped deal with striking truck workers. By killing them? No. By… No. “Computer, what is our solution?” “It just says ‘Death!’ again.” “Whatever I press!” Striking truck drivers blocked all the access streets going to the capital. But they were able to work out what routes were free. What factories still had some workers that could send things out. And they used this central computer for it. Oh, it had Google Maps? Not really back then? No! Bing! Oh God! “Ah! I see you want to visit…
the centre of the Atlantic Ocean.” “Here is a picture of France.” Thanks Bing! Thanks Bing! Bing would be so much better if it was voiced by Bing Crosby. “So, I see you wanna find out more ’bout York in England do you…?” “Well son, here you go.” Except it’s Bing, So you’d just be given a map of the New York tube system. “Son, why d’ya wanna go anywhere else?” “Ah sir, that’s all ya need to know about York… uh… you’re not there.” “Swell game, fellas.” What did the central planning office have for the seven people, that were sat around… Seats? Super cool, lean back consoles with many screens and… I’m going to give you the point [ding]. They had… This is the ’70s, whirling tape and lights, surely? Oh yeah! There we go. 1970s, Star Trek, science fiction style, command console chairs for the seven people who took all this information and made the decisions. A sign on the toilet, saying ‘Captain’s Log’. Aww… Which was fine, apart from the chaps in the very short dresses. Oh yeah! — I’m thinking Star Trek uniforms here.
— Yeah. Early Next Generation Star Trek had gender neutral uniforms that were basically short dresses, down to about… I believe they were called skants. Skants. Yes. I thought that sounds like a crisp based snack. Skant! — Skants!
— New Skants! You open the bag — there’s not much in. Buy them today… BECAUSE THE COMPUTER TOLD YOU! Buy them or face the Pigeons! You know in history, there are these people who have these grand dreams of socialist planning and computers that are never made real. This man’s dream became real. William Shatner! He just wanted a real life Enterprise. What country did Stafford Beer come from? ‘Murica! No. The United Kingdom! Yes he did! [ding]. A British management cybernetics consultant. — [BEEP]ing hell.
— What? In 70s… — In 1970s.
— You can’t be that any more, can you? Stafford Beer. You have to be a startup to be one of those now. He also sympathised with the Chilean socialists. And that worked quite well! I imagine it did. He basically got, I don’t know if it was a phone call in those days, but he got a message, out of the blue. — Probably a telex.
— A telex, surely? From the COM-PU-TER! From the wonderfully named Fernando Flores and he basically dropped all his other work and said “Yes, I will go to Chile!” Someone picked it up later. It would be all over the floor. And help the socialists. Did they have a five year plan? Well they did. But it lasted about two years. I was going to say, did that not work out? That’s the duration of most five year plans, in my experience. Actually, yeah. Let me guess, they ****ed off, quite soon after. No, they were given a military coup. Given one?! ♫ Happy Birthday to you… ♫ Here’s a military coup… ♫ ♫ You’ve five minutes to leave ♫ And your family too! ♫ I mean Chris, you pressed the button there, but it was entirely justified. Those are biscuits for Gary. Well done. Yes. The 1973 Chilean coup d’etat. Aren’t those the little things you have at parties? — That’s… that’s…
— Crudités! A crudités coup d’etat! Ooh look! It’s shaped like a tiny rifle. How avant-garde! Ooh! It’s taken over my intestines! Yes, the caviar was somewhat suspect. Opens the fridge… Flags… Parade… Tins of pilchards going round like nuclear missiles. Than, many years later, people are wearing red t-shirts, with crudités on them. Big pictures of a tin of sardines… Being held. They were obviously airbrushed, to make them look a bit newer. Yeah! The smoked salmon ones are at the top because although all men are born equal, some are more equal than others. Apart from one really old one in the middle. Looks like it could fall off at any time. With an awesome mustache. It’s a Chilean coup, so with a big hat, sunglasses. Who backed the Chilean coup? In 1973? The COM-PU-TER did! It’s got to be the States. It’s go to be the States. Richard Nixon’s government. Yes [ding]. There is a name you might recognise, that came to power afterwards. — Pinochet!
— Pinochet! [ding] Dammit! I would have been right. Ah well. It was the coup in which Pinochet came to power. And… you know… As part of this, the massive infrastructure of socialism that Nixon and the U.S. were fighting against. This massive computer orchestrated thing… destroyed. It’s worth pointing out, in less than… Ooh hoo hoo hoo! I didn’t actually intend for that to connect. — Hel-lo!
— Handbags at dawn ladies! He’s right, it was worth pointing out. That is the most ‘shut that door’ slap I’ve ever seen, Tom. It really is. It’s worth mentioning that they actually did get to advanced prototype in under two years. Which for a central government operation — like, I don’t know if Britain could do that with one thing right now.
Let alone a big national project. So they went full-on startup? Yeah. They… They had a great idea. They burned out after two years, almost literally. That’s it. That’s all I’m saying. Yeah, they managed it. And no-one really got any money at the end. And the person whose idea it was, despite the fact it was technically a failure, went back and had a successful career doing other things. And no-one’s heard about it now! Basically a tech startup. There you go. The late ’90s, documented, right there. Yes! So, congratulations at the end of that. I think Gary, you… You very clearly win this one. You win a restaurant that cooks lingerie over a box of hot coals, that was previously owned by a famous civil engineer… Go on… It’s Brunel’s Brassieres and Braziers Brasserie. So congratulations, enjoy that. With that we say good bye to Chris Joel… To Gary Brannan… To Matt Gray… I’ve been Tom Scott and we’ll see you next time. [Translating these subtitles? Add your name here!]

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