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Steve Chaplin
IU Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book by IU informatics professor Medina earns two top technology publishing awards

'Cybernetic Revolutionaries' called 'remarkable study,' an 'insightful historical analysis'

Oct. 31, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It started out as an intriguing footnote connecting two of Eden Medina's greatest interests -- technology and Latin America -- and then turned into a multiple award-winning book for the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing associate professor.

Medina's "Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile" has been awarded both the Computer History Museum Prize and the Edelstein Prize for what critics called a "remarkable" and "compellingly written" book on the early computer network designed to regulate Chile's economic transition to socialism during the government of Salvador Allende. The book illustrates how political innovation can lead to technological innovation and how computers have been used historically to bring about social and economic changes in society.

This is the first time the Edelstein Prize, awarded to the author of an outstanding scholarly book in the history of technology published during the preceding three years, has been awarded for a book on computer history. Awarded by the Society for the History of Technology, the prize cited Medina's book as "a remarkable study of the intersection of technology and politics in Chile during the short-lived presidency of Salvador Allende, 1970-1973. ... Exhaustively researched, methodologically sophisticated, and clearly and compellingly written, Eden Medina's 'Cybernetic Revolutionaries' is richly deserving of the 2012 Edelstein Prize."

The Computer History Museum Prize, awarded to the author of an outstanding book in the history of computing broadly conceived and published during the prior three years, cited "Cybernetic Revolutionaries" as "a well-researched, insightful historical analysis of utopian computer technology and politics in Chile before, during and after the brief presidency of Salvador Allende. Eden Medina situates the history of technology in a national framework to integrate topics and approaches from economic policies, to cybernetics and managerial ideology, international relations and biography."

Medina received a BSE in electrical engineering from Princeton University in 1997 and a Ph.D. in history and social study of science and technology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005, the same year she joined the faculty at IU Bloomington's School of Informatics and Computing. Last year she received IU's Outstanding Junior Faculty Award, and earlier this year she was awarded a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation worth $299,000 that will allow her to attend law school in 2013-14 to study the intersection between information technology and human rights.

The book takes a deep look into Chile's Project Cybersyn, an early computer network designed to regulate Chile's economic transition to socialism. Project Cybersyn was still under construction when a military coup overthrew the Allende government in 1973, but parts of the system, such as a network of telex machines, had helped the government improve its internal communication for almost a year and improved the government's data-collecting abilities. The book uses this case study to explore how engineers have tried to build political values into the design of technical systems and the challenges associated with such efforts. It also extends the geography of computer history to include the experiences of a Latin American nation.

"To understand the dynamics of technological development -- and perhaps thereby do a better job of encouraging it -- we must broaden our view of where technological innovation occurs," Medina said.

Medina, who was born in Colombia and raised in the U.S., has called Latin America a wonderful setting for studying the relationship between technology and politics because it requires studying how foreign aid and trade agreements, the presence of multinational corporations, and international geopolitics can shape the design, adoption and use of computer systems.

"At times Latin American nations tried to imitate how nations such as the United States, Britain and France used computer technology," she said. "But computers also became sites of resistance. Latin American nations have used them as vehicles for demonstrating national autonomy, alternative visions of modernity, and the success of different political and economic programs. Studying these controversies helps us see that even something we view as very technical, like a computer, is also a social object."

For more information or to speak with Medina, please contact Steve Chaplin, IU Communications, at 812-856-1896 or