[SIGCIS-Members] petroleum and computers

David Alan Grier grier at gwu.edu
Tue Sep 14 05:18:54 PDT 2010

I tend to agree that it was a big consumer of computer cycles but I  
also have my doubts.  After I wrote a Column in Computer in December  
2006 on the Univac Service Center for the Petroleum Industry in  
Dallas, which famously lost money and closed in the early 60s, I  
received a a small torrent of emails from retired petroleum engineers  
who felt that they were finally receiving their due.  As Jonathon  
noted, they were doing high dimensional fourier transforms and lots of  
linear programming, which consumes lots of cycles.  I received emails  
from an  Esso engineer, who noted that they took delivery of the first  
Univac 1103 in '56 and had von Neumann as a consultant.  I also got a  
note from a Chevron engineer who told me about the work he did in the  
early 60s.  At the same time, if you look at the companies buying  
large machines in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s you find that aerospace  
firms out number petroleum firms.

Unless other evidence is out there, I tend to accept the thesis that  
the aerospace industry was the lead consumer of computers with  
petroleum behind it.

David Alan Grier
Vice President of Publications, IEEE Computer Society
Associate Professor of International Science and Technology Policy

Center for International Science and Technology Policy
Elliott School Of International Affairs
George Washington University
grier at computer.org

On Sep 13, 2010, at 6:47 PM, Deborah Douglas wrote:

> Colleagues,
> Recently, I received a question about a claim that the petroleum- 
> seeking geophysics industry was once the greatest consumer of  
> computers, only surpassed at some later point by the federal  
> government.  No citation was given and there is quite a bit of  
> skepticism but where would you advise us to look to refute this  
> claim (or perhaps my own aerospace bias is too strong and the claim  
> is true!).
> Thanks,
> Debbie Douglas
> Deborah G. Douglas, Ph.D.
> Curator of Science and Technology
> MIT Museum, N51-209
> 265 Massachusetts Avenue
> Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
> ddouglas at mit.edu •  617-253-1766 phone  •  617-253-8994 fax
> http://web.mit.edu/museumhttp://webmuseum.mit.eduhttp://museum.mit.edu/150
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