Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal ArtsNomina
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ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
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Victor Mikhaylovich Glushkov (1923-1982) – a Ukrainian scientist, a pioneer of computer technology, an author of fundamental works in the field of cybernetics, mathematics and computing, an initiator and an organizer of the implementation of research programs for the creation of problem-oriented software and hardware complexes for informatization, computerization and automation of the country’s economic and defense activities. The Head of the Scientific School of Cybernetics. The Laureate of numerous awards and prizes.

 

THE ART OF MANAGING

 

In ancient times, this word already existed and meant the art of one of the most qualified specialists of that time – the helmsman, managing the ship. It is in this sense that it was used by Plato in his famous work Laws, and this is the 5th century BC.

Much later, in 1834, the great physicist and systematizer of science André-Marie Ampere called the science of management by this word. He wrote, “This word, which was initially adopted in a narrow sense to denote the art of navigation, was used by the Greeks themselves in the incomparably wider meaning of the art of management in general”. But such a general meaning did not take root …

And more than a century later, in 1954, the Soviet philosophical dictionary spoke about such a science quite distinctly and in the spirit of the times – “a reactionary pseudoscience that arose in the United States after World War II and became widespread in other capitalist countries as well”.

They wrote that it “expresses one of the main features of the bourgeois worldview – inhumanity, the desire to turn workers into an appendage of a machine, into an instrument of production and war … The instigators of a new world war are using it in their dirty practical affairs”.

But in fact, this science was extremely useful and necessary, and it was still impossible to do without it. Moreover, it was in the USSR that considerable results were achieved in it, although, unfortunately, not decisive ones. It is impossible to tell about everything without mentioning this Kyiv resident.

 

WUNDERKIND

 

He was born, however, not in Kyiv, with which all his scientific successes are associated, but in Rostov-on-Don. His father was from the village of Luhansk and considered himself a descendant of Esaul Glushkov, the adjutant of Ataman Platov, who participated in the Battle of Borodino and rode on horseback to Paris.

The whole family took care of the son Victor, who was born in 1923. His grandmother Efimia Petrovna was illiterate, but at the age of 53 she still mastered science – especially in order to read children’s books to little Vitya. However, at the age of four, he himself had already coped with it.

As a preschooler, he enjoyed reading Herbert Wells and Jules Verne, and in the future he loved science fiction. He studied well: once, during school holidays, he independently mastered a university course in Mathematics and Algebra. At the same time, he was fond of sports – volleyball, boxing, swimming: he was not a strong man and wanted to develop himself physically.

Vitya worked very well with his hands – he made a model of a tram controlled by a short-wave transmitter, a home telephone, a photographic enlarger and even, according to his daughter Vera, a television receiver. Lord, what did he take? However, experiments were already underway …

He graduated from high school, as you would expect, with a gold medal – who would have doubted? His main hobby in high school was Physics, and he was going to enter Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University. Probably, he would have entered if he had not received his diploma on June 21, 1941 …

 

WAR

 

The young man immediately applied to the artillery school, but he was refused admission because of the standard problem of children who started reading early – severe myopia, minus 12 diopters. With such a vision, he was not taken into the army at all – in wartime!

During the German offensive on Stalingrad, he and his mother tried to leave their hometown of Shakhty – on foot, there was no other way. At the crossing of the Don, they stumbled upon German tanks that had broken through, and they had to return. Life began in the occupation.

Glushkov’s mother participated in hiding, he himself assembled receivers for the people in hiding – he knew how to do this from school. But trouble struck – his mother was arrested, simply for being a member of the City Council. Victor was told this news by neighbors on the street, and he did not return home.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Homemade receiver of the time

In order not to be arrested and he was hiding in an abandoned house, picking frozen potatoes in the fields, trying to sneak up to the Gestapo building in the hope of seeing his mother. Only when the city was liberated did he learn that she had been shot. Then he called his youngest daughter Vera after the mother.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Victor Glushkov with his daughter Vera

 

THE BEGINNING OF THE WAY

 

Glushkov was immediately mobilized – not into the army, but for labor. But he did not stay as a laborer for long – not that education. Very quickly, he became first a safety inspector, and then the head of the quality control department of the mine department of the Shakhtaantratsit trust.

But Victor wanted to get a higher education. He went to enroll in Moscow, but returned with nothing. He later recalled that they did not take visitors there, but that was inaccurate. They did not take those who lived in the occupied territory. He had to enter the Novocherkassk Industrial Institute.

There he studied for four years (of course, he got excellent marks), but he was calm about the main subject, Heat Engineering, but he loved Physics and Mathematics. As a result, Glushkov decided to transfer to the Faculty of Mathematics of Rostov University, which was not easy.

In order to be accepted, it was necessary to pass 25 exams and tests. There was not enough time for this – he was looking for a number of teachers at home. He found the Professor of Astronomy when he was standing in line to exchange bread cards, and right in that line he passed his exam.

 

TO THE FIRST OPENING

 

To transfer to Rostov University, Victor was forced to part with his girlfriend for a long period, whom he met at the Novocherkassk Institute. In Rostov, he could not find a place in a hostel, and he went home to Shakhty to work on his diploma.

But a year later she wrote to him, and such a letter that he immediately came to her. At the meeting, he said, “I know that I will devote all my time to science. Therefore, I need a wife to take care of the house. If you, Valya, agree to this, marry me”.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Valentina and Victor Glushkov

It suited her, and they did not part all their lives. After graduating from the institute, they went together for distribution to the Urals. By the way, while defending his diploma and developing methods for calculating improper integrals, Glushkov found errors in tables that were reprinted more than 10 times …

As the head of the department of the Ural Forestry Institute, he prepared his doctoral dissertation, in which he achieved a sensational result – he generalized the solution of Hilbert’s Fifth Problem. Solving each of Hilbert’s 23 problems was a step forward for world mathematics.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
David Gilbert

 

KYIV AND NEW WAY

 

After such a sensational success, Glushkov was offered three jobs to choose from in large cities – Moscow, Leningrad and Kyiv. The choice was made by his wife, declaring that she wants to go south. Then it turned out that it was a lifelong choice – probably, in Kyiv he really felt a special warmth …

A new direction of work, which became the main one in Glushkov’s life, in his own words, came to him after reading Anatoly Kitov’s book Electronic Digital Machines, published in early 1956. He was an interesting person, about whom little is known – and in vain!

In 1958, it was his group that developed one of the fastest computers at that time – M-100. A year later, Kitov wrote to Khrushchev, proposing a project of a unified network for computer centers, which would work for the army during the day and for the national economy at night.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Anatoly Kitov

Kitov’s ideas were taken with hostility – what does it mean: we do not govern the country well, and some colonel teaches us to govern well? Kitov was dismissed from his job and expelled from the party – at that time, only prison was worse. But Glushkov was imbued with his ideas …

 

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INSTITUTE

 

He was assigned to lead the laboratory of computer technology, where one of the first computers in continental Europe, MESM, was created. At first, its employees doubted whether the theoretician-mathematician would be able to delve into the production of computers, where it was necessary not to solve integrals, but to be able to hold a soldering iron in their hands. But Glushkov did it – he knew how to do it from school.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
MESM

Soon, the laboratory completed the development of a two-machine complex for air defense, other work also went on and received a logical conclusion. Laboratory staff noticed that their new leader is able to perceive other people’s ideas and develop them if they deserve it.

In December 1957, on the basis of this laboratory, the Computing Center of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR was created, and Glushkov became its director. And in 1962, on the basis of this center, the Institute of Cybernetics of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR emerged, which was also headed by Glushkov, who by that time had become vice-president of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR.

Not only computers were designed – back in 1959, Glushkov began to work on the creation of a robot that could turn control knobs with a mechanical hand, and read instrument readings with a mechanical eye. According to him, the success was hampered only by the absence of engineers at the Institute of Cybernetics who would like to work with their hands.

 

COMPUTERS

 

Glushkov’s designs were numerous and very effective. Back in the 60s, the production of the Kyiv computer was launched, which was quite powerful for those times. Already in 1960, experiments were carried out on it to control technological processes with its help at the Dneprodzerzhinsk Metallurgical Combine, located 500 kilometers from it.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Computer Kyiv

In 1961, the production of the control computer Dnepr was launched, during the development of the named UMShN – a control computer for general use. For 10 years, more than 500 copies of this device were produced, some of which were exported.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Computer Promin

In 1963, they began to produce a small machine for engineering calculations Promin. I still remember it with warmth – it stood at my profiling department, and I performed work on it, for which I received a VDNKh medal as a student. It was no larger than a writing desk.

And in 1968 there was MIR – a machine for engineering calculations, one of the first personal computers in the world. Please note that the Apple I computer appeared only in 1976, and the IBM PC in general in 1981. Its modifications MIR-2 and MIR-3 were even more perfect and efficient.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Computer MIR-2

 

FAILURE

 

Glushkov understood the promise of Kitov’s idea of ​​a nationwide information system. By the way, they met personally and became friends so much that the eldest daughter Olga Glushkova married Kitov’s son. Glushkov finalized and improved Kitov’s idea.

In 1962, he proposed the National Automated Accounting and Information Processing System (OGAS) with a center in Moscow, 200 mid-level centers in other large cities, and up to 20,000 local terminals. The existing telephone network was to be used for communication. Each terminal could interact with any other.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
OGAS scheme

The CSO, the Central Statistical Office, was against it from the very beginning – and it is understandable why, in such a system it is more difficult to give out figures that the authorities like. Glushkov, who at one time was a member of the CPSU Central Committee, continued to insist. But everything was drowned in long discussions.

In 1970, the implementation of the OGAS was discussed in the Politburo, and the Minister of Finance opposed – they say, the costs are too high. Glushkov tried to prove that these costs would pay off and bring only profit in the future, but they did not believe him and put a promising project on the shelf.

And in the Soviet press there were articles like Lessons From The Electronic Boom, where it was reported that personal computers were recognized in the West as ineffective, and reports to the Central Committee, where the use of computers in the economy was compared to the fashion for abstract painting.

 

WORK

 

Despite the failure with OGAS, Glushkov continued his activities very effectively. Under his leadership, the main editorial office of the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia published the Encyclopedia of Cybernetics, in 1973 – in Ukrainian, in 1974 – in Russian.

His authority in the world was also great. For a long time he was an advisor to the UN Secretary General on cybernetics. By the way, it was Glushkov who was commissioned by the world-famous encyclopedia Britannica for reprinting in 1973 the article Cybernetics – is this not world recognition?

He also paid a lot of attention to personnel issues of cybernetics. It was on his initiative that in 1969, on the basis of the Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv, the Faculty of Cybernetics was opened – the first in the USSR! And the Institute of Cybernetics has successfully grown at least tenfold under him.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Glushkov Institute of Cybernetics

 

PROPHECY

 

Let me conclude with a few lines from his last book, Fundamentals of Paperless Informatics, published in 1982. Think for yourself, who could have foreseen it then, how accurately everything predicted by him came true, and what we would have achieved if we had more confidence in him.

“Paperless informatics is developing at an extremely fast pace. In all developed countries, the rate of increase in the number of computers, automated control systems, terminals, and especially the total productivity of computers and the amount of information accumulated in them, sharply outstrips the growth rates of all other indicators characterizing the economy and scientific and technological progress.

The merging of telecommunication facilities with computer science (implemented in computer networks and computer centers with remote terminals) has already led to the emergence of a new term “telematics”. The most zealous telematics apologists predict that the day is not far off when ordinary books, newspapers and magazines will disappear.

In return, each person will carry with them an “electronic pad”, which is a combination of a flat panel display and a miniature radio transceiver. By typing on the keyboard of this “notepad” the desired code, you can (being anywhere on our planet, call from the giant computer databases connected in the network, any texts, images (including dynamic), which will replace not only modern books, magazines and newspapers, but also modern televisions”.

Doesn’t it look like it?

 

THE FINAL

 

Back in 1980, Glushkov began to complain about his health, although he continued to work in his usual intense rhythm. He was first examined in the kV hospital Feofania, then he was transported to the Moscow Central Clinical Hospital, a hospital for the very best – they said that overwork and osteochondrosis were the problems he had.

In October, after the CDB, there was a slight improvement, but soon it got worse. Only the invited German professor Zülch was able to make the diagnosis. It couldn’t be worse – a tumor of the medulla oblongata with metastases to the spinal cord. Nothing could be done.

In the last nine days of his life, having regained consciousness after a long coma, he dictated his memories and ideas to his daughter Olga. On January 30, 1982, Victor Glushkov left this world. He was only 58 years old – how much more he could create! If only they hadn’t interfered with him …

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Glushkov’s grave in Kyiv at the Baikovo cemetery

A week later, the New York Times wrote about his death. She noted that Glushkov’s developments met with obstacles in the ideological sphere, which is why the USSR lagged behind Western countries in this. But the very mention of his death in such a source also speaks volumes.

 

MEMORY

 

Now his merits are recognized by everyone. It is long to list the awards that he was awarded both during his lifetime and after his death. Glushkov was an academician not only of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, but also of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Sciences of the GDR and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

Among his many awards, the Silver Core of the International Federation for Information Processing and the Computer Pioneer Medal of the Computer Association of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers are worth noting.

In his honor, postage envelopes were issued in the USSR and Ukraine. A prize was established in his name, memorial plaques were installed at the Novocherkassk Institute and at the Faculty of Cybernetics of the KNU, and Kyiv avenue was called after him. The less they hindered him – there would be more awards.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Victor Glushkov, a son of a Luhansk resident, is the founder of Russian cybernetics
Memorial plaque to Glushkov on the building of the Faculty of Cybernetics of the Kyiv National University

And in 2007, composer Victor Argonov created the opera 2032: The Legend of a Lost Future. According to its plot, Glushkov’s ideas were nevertheless implemented, and the USSR did not disintegrate, but flourished with the help of an effective computer control system. Could it be so? Ask another question: would it be allowed to be implemented? Life itself gave the answer …

All illustrations from open sources

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