May 19, 2020
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Digitalization in the USSR. Part I: How the Automated Scheduled Settlement System was Built, and Why They Talk Little About It

Many people know the story of how prominent cybernetics in the USSR in the team of Viktor Glushkov in the middle 1960 - x put forward a draft of the State Automated Information Accounting System (OGAS). You can even hear that this is the first project in the world of the information society. But often the stories about digitalization in the USSR break off with the phrase “and everything died out,” because, supposedly, the bureaucrats did not understand the idea or were afraid of it. In fact, great steps were taken towards digitalization, and to the beginning 1980 - x there are many in the Union economic data flows have already been transmitted digitally, not on paper. That is, electronic document management was partially implemented.

We talked with Alexei Safronov , a historian who deals with this topic. The story of his “romance” with her is rather curious: five years ago he began working at the Analytical Center under the Government of the Russian Federation, which in a previous life was the Main Computing Center of the USSR State Planning Committee. At that time, the building was recently renovated, and rooms were opened where massive computers used to be. Bookshelves were placed there as space dividers, and, in order to fill them with something, they pulled books out of the basement of the building. It turned out that after Perestroika, books from the library of the Main Computing Center of the State Planning Commission were taken to the basement. In one of the books, Aleksey stumbled upon the mention of ASPR, after which he devoted several years to studying this topic.

Aleksey told us why the most famous story about OGAS ends with a "zilch", why “Under each cow’s sensor,” as well as many other facts about the transfer of a planned economy to digital tracks.

XX 2 CENTURY. Why do we not know much about the Automated Scheduled Settlement System (ASDS) despite the fact that it was partially implemented, successfully applied and was able to optimize the process of compiling a one-year economic plan at times? Why do most sources talk about OGAS, which was not implemented in practice, and not about ASPR? Why do we know the history of digitalization attempts in the USSR as a story about defeat, and not about success?

Safronov. To answer these questions, you have to plunge into history. It all started a long time ago. The idea of ​​OGAS appeared earlier than ASPR, at the end 1940 - x. Almost immediately, the question arose of who would be involved in the modeling and implementation of the system. Two departments argued among themselves, the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) and the State Planning Commission. At this time, the TsSU was led by Vladimir Nikonovich Starovsky, who was at this post with 1140 of the year. The End 17 - x - this was his finest hour: he worked for years and finally achieved that all statistics began to be collected at the CSB, and departmental statistics as redundant were canceled. Only 6 years pass, and some cybernetics scientists with the State Planning Commission say:

- We came up with an awesome computer system here, though it still doesn’t, but we decided that we will collect all statistics through it when we do (according to their plan, the processing of all accounting and statistical information should have occurred in their Unified Network of Computing Centers (EECC)). Starovsky logically replied to them that “if you want all statistics to be processed through this system, then it should be ours, TsSUshna”.

Naturally, Gosplanists and cybernetics were dissatisfied.

Then the period of active confrontation between the two departments began - with the involvement of administrative resources , with custom-made articles in the press, everything we love (do not think that they were fundamentally different people. A custom-made article in Pravda that “here people misunderstand the politics of the party and therefore need to be explained to them” - this is easy ) The first task was to write the project to a working group led by Nathan Efimovich Kobrinsky, deputy head of the Main Computing Center of the State Planning Commission. The Scientific Council, which was headed by the very Glushkov, was to accept this project. (It turns out that Glushkov was the head of the selection committee, and then he himself actively participated in the project from the receivers). When the Gosplan project was ready, the CSB wrote an objection to it. Next, the project was commissioned to finalize the CSB. It wrote its version, the Gosplan replied to it with an objection. And so several times. During their “butt”, Khrushchev was removed, the sectoral management system was returned, Kosygin reform was carried out, and the two were still butting. Everyone was fed up with this, and the departments parted in peace. The State Planning Commission took as a basis the early proposals 1960 of the year and began to do what he could technically do - but within the framework of its department, and not of all ministries, as cybernetics wanted it to be.

Here, there was a split between the scientists-cybernetics and the State Planning Commission, who had previously acted as a united front. The core of maximalist enthusiasts suggested immediately building a global system that would take on all managerial and computational tasks. They said that it would be possible to make some kind of unified algorithm that would calculate the optimal annual plan. Skeptics answered them: "To make your project, you need to put a sensor under each cow." It turned out that cybernetics were tearing themselves away from their potential customers, since Gosplan needed more things related to current planned tasks. They were then bothered by the following problems:

  • the high complexity of the calculations,

  • the complexity of the organization of the plan development process (necessary it was to link the work of many planners with each other),
  • impossibility variational calculations (because of the complexity it was impossible to make several options for the plan),
      inadequate regulatory framework with which to do something,
    • the lack of a reliable methodological basis for making management decisions th,
  • resource overrun due to the fact that the solutions suboptimal.
  • That there are planners in the first place they needed a tool to better do what they already did. The OGAS project, originally proposed by the ideological core, included a much larger amount of work than simply solving these problems. For example, in the project 1960 of the year it was argued that it was not practical to create departmental systems, there should be one system per of all, it must solve the problems of calculating optimal current and long-term plans for the development of the economy, planning material and technical supplies, inventory management and so on. They insisted that there was only one right way to use computers - to make a large, unified system at once. But the Gosplanists adhered to the approach that it is necessary to do what is relevant now - and in order to get out of the confrontation with the CSB, they began to create their own interdepartmental system, against which the CSB did not have the right to vote. It turned out that the cybernetics were offended by the Gosplanites because they “perverted” their idea, and then wrote in their memoirs that the stupid bureaucrats either did not understand it, either did not accept it, or screwed it up. Among those cybernetics enthusiasts is Viktor Glushkov.

    Thus, the ASPR project was born. Instead of immediately creating a large system across the country, it was assumed that each department would simultaneously begin to make its own piece, its own system, and then they had to be combined into one system, which would become the OGAS. At the heart of the ASPR system were network charts - that is, charts of the formation of the plan. It was a fashionable theme 1940 - s. The plan consists of indicators, and there are indicators that are needed to calculate the following indicators, they are needed to calculate indicators of a different level, and so on. Such data streams are fixed, and a huge network diagram is obtained. Behind each indicator is some kind of planner who is responsible for it. To draw up a network diagram, the first step is to conduct interviews with each planner in order to find out where he takes information and where to transmit it further, as well as using which method he calculates his indicator. The information used was of various types - from ministries that learn production capacities from their enterprises, data from other departments, and also from the MCC data bank - regulatory information (for example, if we are building a workshop, there are standards for the consumption of brick and concrete )

    Пример сетевого графика из проекта АСПР.

    An example of a network diagram from the ASPR project.


    The preparation of the annual plan began in the spring of the previous year to finish and approve it by December. At the same time, it is not that the planners closed for several months and did not go out, and then they showed the people a plan. There was a constant work with enterprises. Some economists critical of a planned economy even say that it was a “matching economy.” They approximately knew the production capacities of the enterprise, and there was such a jumble: “And how much will you do? We will do it, but we need a new workshop. And if we don’t give you money for the new workshop? Then we cannot do so much. And if you download subcontractors? ” And so a few iterations.

    In printed form, the annual national economic plan is a volume one and a half meters high. There was a task for every plant. It was necessary to cut it into separate lines and send a telegram to each plant stating that "this year you need to make so many cast-iron pigs." There are many thousands of factories in the country, and it was necessary to cut one and a half meters of the national economic plan, seal each task into an envelope, send each envelope to the factory, and then check that the factory received it, otherwise they would say: “We didn’t see anything, we don’t know.” This absolutely technical work before the start 1963 - s occupied almost the whole of January. Accordingly, throughout January, enterprises lived virtually without a plan. Each director understood that it was necessary to continue to work, because the annual task would be any more than they would do in January, but this approach alone was not very healthy. When the plan appeared in electronic form, it took three days to finish it (there was no need to cut a meter-long volume of paper into separate telegrams — they were formed in computer form), and such a gap of a month was eliminated.

    Initially 80 - x plan as a document already existed entirely in electronic form. This had an important consequence. First, parts of the plan have become technically aligned with each other. It was not just a set of tables where some values ​​are stuck, and no one knows where they came from, but hyperlinks were used from one table to another. The computer was not fully able to recalculate all indicators in automatic mode. Where, conditionally, the third digit is obtained by adding the first two, it was possible to automatically update. But some indicators could not be clearly formalized. In such cases, the planners resorted to a “planned flair” and estimates. Behind each planned indicator was a living planner who administered this indicator. If one thing changed, the system was able to send a reminder to all involved that "the indicator used to calculate your indicator has changed, you need to correct your indicator." When the system receives data from planners, she understands who they are stuck with. Then you can move this person, write "you hold everyone, accelerate." Thus, formal consistency of all planned forms was ensured. The process became faster, technical errors went away, due to which the plant could get the most perfect “unexpected” at the end of January, and the desync went when different numbers are in different forms, because someone forgot to change something.

    In addition, it has become technically possible to draw up several versions of plans, and from them to choose which one will appeal to the Party more. Kossov Vladimir Viktorovich, one of the former leaders of the MCC, said that literally overnight they drove several estimates of the options for intersectoral balances for the next year, in the morning he told Baybakov to Nikolai Konstantinovich, and he went to tell the Politburo what can be done. Suppose the Politburo asks: “We want the population of the USSR to eat more meat, we need to produce more meat. How can I do that?" And then they drive the model. You can buy meat, then you need to sell something abroad, for example, oil, because then it has risen in price. So, we need investments in oil production. Oil production is needed not for oil, but for meat! Another variant. You can grow more meat. So you need more investment in pig farms and cowsheds, and this requires feed. It was tight with the feed. The USSR purchased fodder grain, which was used instead of animal feed. And you can invest in the chemical industry to produce feed. You can even say that we don’t need the meat itself, but we need protein so that people can be healthier, so "let's develop the ocean fleet and arrange a fish day on Thursday." They reported this to the Politburo, such as choose. And they are answered: "We have no idea - you yourself decide what will be more profitable." Therefore, later they themselves began to consider what was more profitable.

    Thus, the ASPR project did not encroach on the established planning logic, but significantly simplified and accelerated the preparation of plans, which made it possible to detail them more and more. And this, in turn, allowed planners to cope with the increasing complexity and diversification of the economy.

    I think the popularity of the OGAS is largely due to hopes for a radical breakdown of socio-economic relations, which it supposedly could provide by leading the USSR out of stagnation without market reforms. The history of ASPR shows that, unfortunately, the real possibilities of technology to influence society are much more modest, largely because customers first of all need a solution to their pressing problems, and revolutionary transformations are more likely to be received (or not obtained) as a side effect of this work.

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