[SIGCIS-Members] Petroleum frenzy - message from Simone Turchetti

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Fri Sep 17 10:28:43 PDT 2010

(Here's a message forwarded from someone else with email trouble posting to
the list at present. Welcome to our new member Simone Turchetti -- Tom).

I think that the claim is too vague to be considered either true or
false. However, the mailing list members can check the existing
literature in the history of geophysics that definitely documents
important ties between the development of oil prospecting and the
early days of computing. One important reference is the book by
Charles Bates, Thomas Gaskell and Robert Rice "Geophysics in the
Affairs of Man" (Pergamon, 1982) which shows some of these connections.

A general point that needs to be made is that many geophysicists went
into the field of oil prospecting with skills and experience in
electronic engineering and sought to apply methods of signal detection
to geological analysis. Therefore they were open to experiment with
the commercial viability of their electronic instrumentation beyond
the remit of oil prospecting and contributed to the advancement of
electronic systems in general. And indeed -as Bates, Gaskell and Rice
show- this is one of the reasons why Texas Instruments was
established. The company was intended as an off-shoot of the
Geophysical Services Inc. (one of the oldest firms in the field) for
the provision of more refined electronic instrumentation (check Bates
et al., pp. 309-317).

Moreover from the 1960s, the needs of remote sensing in fields like
oil prospecting (but also seismology and oceanography) propelled the
search for methods of digital recording and processing of information
which -again- strengthened the connection between geophysical research
and the IT sector (check Bates at al., 164-169).

So in my opinion there is no doubt that geophysical firms played a big
role in the advancement of computing and invested heavily in the
field. However it would be difficult to quantify this contribution,
especially by comparing it with the investments by the US federal
government or that in other equally important areas (such as

Bates et al. provides a lot of useful information, but those who want
to read more should be aware that it is a book written a while ago to
provide raw historical data on the advancement of geophysics, which by
then had received poor historical coverage.

Hope this helps, s.

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