As September 11th approaches, The Guardian is doing a special series of reports commemorating the tragedy that brought the end of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of freedoms – namely, the bloody, US-backed coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile thirty years ago. There’s lots of fascinating and horrifying material here, but of most obvious interest to a sad geek like myself is the astonishing story of a Surrey engineer’s project to bring ubiquitous radio-networked democratic mechanisms to Chile, as told in this superb piece by Andy Beckett:
What this collaboration produced was startling: a new communications system reaching the whole spindly length of Chile, from the deserts of the north to the icy grasslands of the south, carrying daily information about the output of individual factories, about the flow of important raw materials, about rates of absenteeism and other economic problems.
The ambition of the scheme is incredible: Firstly in technical terms – even today, when we have technology several orders of magnitude more powerful and more prevalent, such a scheme would still be considered little more than a pipe dream – but even more so in the core idea of pioneering technology to provide the feedback mechanisms that would enable a socialist economy to operate more efficiently than its capitalist equivalent.
The project was operational for a couple of years before the coup, but never fully completed. The story is little-known outside of Chile, but is another testament to the far-sightedness of President Allende and his dedication to his society, and another poignant reminder of all that was lost in this stupid, evil tragedy. Go read.