We’re so used to relying on software at our every waking moment, we tend to forget the extraordinary importance it has in our lives. We use software to write, browse the internet, take and edit photos, send e-mails and WhatsApp messages. And that’s not all. Software is increasingly running our cars, our washing machines, the thermostats in our fridges – the list is endless.
Most of our daily tasks are done with a computer program, prompting Silicon Valley guru Marc Andreessen to write that “software is eating the world”. And this strong comment implies no criticism. It is a simple observation of the fact that the digital tools we use in our daily lives have assumed incredible influence over all of us. This is true not only of programs in popular use, but also of the software underlying the biggest innovations of the last few years. Artificial intelligence is a software and it can process huge amounts of big data to spot skin tumours more accurately than a doctor, or translate ever more reliably from one language to another, to give just a couple of examples. Blockchains have revolutionised the world of finance and are becoming part of the innovation process at businesses and government authorities. The same goes for the programs supercomputers are using to sequence the human genome and make increasingly accurate weather forecasts.
Some of the most important software is crucial in industry, like Echelon, the fruit of a partnership between Eni and the American company Stone Ridge Technology. Technically, it’s an “advanced dynamic reservoir simulator, for optimisation of field monitoring, development and production”. In layman’s terms, it’s a program that recreates the behaviour of oil fields. Eni uses it to read fields and make company decisions. Echelon processes more quickly than other products on the market but sacrifices nothing when it comes to precision. Together with HPC5 – the supercomputer announced in October 2015 and revealed in February 2020, which has brought Eni’s calculating speed up to 52 petaFLOPS (52 million billion operations a second) – it’s an important new milestone on the road to the digital transformation.
More and more focus is on computer power and less and less on man power, which is what actually gives these machines their calculating skills. In the words of the famous advertising slogan, “Power is nothing without control”. Simple but powerful words that reflect the balance we need to strike.