Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Today’s news of the death of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Soviet general who created the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, reminded us of a 2005 piece in this publication (“Kalashnikov’s Gun”) in which Edward Tenner said the gun may be “the world’s deadliest work of art.” In explaining why the Kalashnikov was used by revolutionaires and insurgents everywhere, Tenner argued that it wasn’t only because the rifle was cheap. It was because of its qualities that were born from Russia’s isolation and adversity:

The AK-47 illustrates the power of incremental adaptation. As a tank sergeant in World War II, Mikhail Kalashnikov saw that most Soviet troops had only carbines against the superior range of the German Sturmgewehr. While recovering from battlefield wounds, he began to create a design for a new weapon, one that could be assembled with relatively loose tolerances by relatively inexperienced workers, avoiding the supply bottlenecks that often resulted from the German cult of fine craftsmanship. A tractor plant originally produced the gun. Not only was the AK-47 simple to manufacture, but it could withstand rough handling in harsh terrain and climates. … It is all too easy for non-Russians, including anti-Russian terrorists, to reuse, repair, and manufacture it.

Tenner argued that this quintessential Russian ingeniousness also had “more benign outcomes.” As an example, he cited the video game Tetris, whose addictive simplicity derived from the limited processing power and memory available to its Soviet creator.

6 comments. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Business

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me