Epistemic Machines for the Cold War: Computing Economic Planning Projects in Cold War Taiwan, 1959-1968

This talk traces the process in which Taiwanese economic bureaucrats, a Cornell economics professor, and pioneering computer users worked together to visualize, represent, and make sense of economic activities in Taiwan through inter-industry input-output tables. A Cornell econometrician, Ta-Chung Liu (1914–1975) visited Taiwan in 1964 to help develop an economic-planning project for a Taiwanese government agency, the Council for International Economic Cooperation and Development. Liu worked on producing inter-industry input-output analyses of Taiwanese industries by using one of the first two available electronic digital computers in Taiwan. It was an IBM 1620 mainframe, installed at a Taiwanese university in 1964 through a United Nations technical-aid program. This talk highlights three ways in which the computer power and geopolitics are inseparable. First, it unpacks the participation of Taiwanese historical actors at the frontlines of Cold War economic competition between Taiwan and China. Second, this talk reveals how U.S. and UN aid provided the necessary technological resources for relevant econometric calculations. Finally, the mutual reliance between economic planning and electronic digital computers is illustrated in the constant adjustment of inter-industry tables to the capacity of available computers for its arduous calculation and interpretation of incomprehensible data. In sum, this talk elaborates on the critical role of computing technology during the Cold War, especially in an East Asian geopolitical context.
4:30 pm on Thursday, November 14, 2019
5:30 pm on Thursday, November 14, 2019
JSC Room 201, 147 Bay State Road (entrance on Silber Way)