Cold War competition shaped the process of computerization in both East and West during the second half of the twentieth century. This article combines insights from Science and Technology Studies, which brought the analysis of Cold War technopolitics beyond the context of the nation-state, with approaches from Critical Algorithm Studies, to question the algorithm’s role in the global “computer revolution.” It traces the algorithm’s trajectory across several geographical, political, and discursive spaces to argue that its mutable cultural valences made the algorithm a universalizing attribute for representing human-machine interactions across the ideological divide. It shows that discourses about the human capacity to devise algorithms, a practice central to computer programming, became a space for negotiating different versions of modern subjectivity. This article focuses on two related episodes to demonstrate how the notion of “algorithmic thinking” became explicitly associated with a range of politicized agendas, each claiming the algorithm’s power. On one hand, the coupling of “algorithm” and “thinking” was used to describe a naturalized cognitive capacity shared among the members of the international scientific community and projected backward to the medieval scholar Al-Khwarizmi. On the other hand, the universal spread of “algorithmic thinking” became the educational goal of a late Soviet computer literacy campaign under the slogan of “Programming, the Second Literacy,” a metaphor and a political vision conceived to bring about the Socialist “Information Age.”
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| April 01 2019
Thinking Algorithmically: From Cold War Computer Science to the Socialist Information Culture
Global Studies Institute, Geneva University, Sciences II, 30 Quai Ernest-Ansermet, CH–1211, Genève, Switzerland.
Search for other works by this author on:
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (2019) 49 (2): 194–225.
Ksenia Tatarchenko; Thinking Algorithmically: From Cold War Computer Science to the Socialist Information Culture. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 April 2019; 49 (2): 194–225. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2019.49.2.194
Download citation file:
Don't already have an account? Register
You could not be signed in. Please check your email address / username and password and try again.
Could not validate captcha. Please try again.