On this day in oil and gas: June 17 - Charles Babbage

June 17th 1822, Royal Astronomical Society, London – A paper is read to the assembled gentlemen of the learned society. Its title, Note on the application of machinery to the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables, is as dry as a smoked sand sandwich, but its contents are revolutionary.

It’s author is a 31-year old Londoner that was making a name for himself as a bit of a polymath. His name was Charles Babbage and in his paper spoke about a little invention called "the difference engine".

This "difference engine" was conceived as an automated mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions ie. a machine that would produce mathematically accurate tables better than error-prone teams of mathematicians. Although the engine was not constructed in Babbage’s lifetime, the difference engine was the progenitor of the concepts behind the present day computer, the ultimate expression of which we find in the real-time optimised digital oilfields that pump millions of barrels per day worldwide.

PS For an alternate history where Babbage’s cybernetic creations lead to mass social upheaval, click here!



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