[SIGCIS-Members] petroleum and computers

JOHNSON, ANN AJOHNSON at mailbox.sc.edu
Tue Sep 14 06:27:59 PDT 2010

Seems to me that this is a complicated question.  How do we measure
consumers of computers?  By who buys the largest number?  That seems to
be easy to adjudicate (sales records of the small number of producers
would net this), but that approach leaves out quite a bit.  Maybe we
need to know that as a starting point, but then we have to ask about
usage within the organizations that purchase them, both in terms of
operations and in terms of how demanding those operations were.  Also
the question of use brings in university researchers.  I know from my
own work that aerospace engineers at Berkeley were early adopters but
they didn't have their own mainframe in the 50s, so they wouldn't be
trackable as 701-2 'owner.'  But the research was funded by Boeing, so
needs to be counted in the column of aero/defense consumers.




From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [mailto:members-bounces at sigcis.org] On
Behalf Of David Alan Grier
Sent: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 8:19 AM
To: Deborah Douglas
Cc: members at sigcis.org
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] petroleum and computers


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:


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!).


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/museum  *  http://webmuseum.mit.edu *

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