CERA's Five key technologies (November 1996)

The CERA study highlights five key technologies most likely to make an impact on the industry's future


Developed by particle physicists in Switzerland to make the Internet easier to use, the Web combines text, graphics, sound and video on a single screen. It is growing fast, more users and more applications every day, and stimulating big changes in the ways people communicate and organize their activities.


Also called optical electronics, it means using light (photons instead of electrons) to store, process, manipulate and transmit information. Televisions will act like computers and computers will act like televisions while both of them act like telephones. Using superconductors and fiber-optic cables, photonics will allow more data across the Web.


They will store all that digital data and make it available quickly and reliably for analysis by whoever has rights to use it. Data will become the base commodity of the 21st century, as cereals were in the 19th and oil in the 20th centuries. Competitive advantage will pass to those with the best access to data and the best tools for its analysis.


Without new tools to handle it, warehouses would simply result in an avalanche of data. Artificial intelligence (AI) - which requires search engines that use fuzzy logic and neural nets that try to imitate an animate brain - is needed for quick and accurate summaries of the information patterns contained in all that data. Success with AI will be aided by object technology to allow computers to store and access data in the right way.


Through the use of robotics, virtual reality could provide subsurface sight and sense to technicians above ground. If combined with extreme miniaturization (called nano-technolce), robots can become microscopic; AI would allow them to become decision makers as well. Taken to the limit, and combining all three technologies, robots could patrol the pores of an oil or gas reservoir, monitor how the hydrocarbons are flowing, decide how to maximize recovery and dictate to other robots in the wells which

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