"How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet"

Jan 10, 2017

On this edition of ST, a discussion of Russian hacking attempts worldwide, of cyber-attacks on the DNC that were meant to affect the 2016 Presidential Election, and of related news stories. And we'll also discuss, in more detail, what might be seen as the hi-tech precursor to these stories -- that is, the Soviet Union's longtime efforts to create a kind of national internet...long before the internet itself actually existed. Our guest is Benjamin Peters, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Tulsa who is also involved with the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Peters is the author of "How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet," just out from MIT Press. As noted of this book of the MIT Press website: "Between 1959 and 1989, Soviet scientists and officials made numerous attempts to network their nation -- to construct a nationwide computer network. None of these attempts succeeded, and the enterprise had been abandoned by the time the Soviet Union fell apart. Meanwhile, ARPANET, the American precursor to the Internet, went online in 1969. Why did the Soviet network, with top-level scientists and patriotic incentives, fail, while the American network succeeded? In 'How Not to Network a Nation,' Peters reverses the usual cold war dualities and argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments and the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others. The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists." And further, per the journal Marginal Revolution: "Anyone interested in the history of the internet, comparative systems, or the history of the Soviet Union should read this book."