The Fascination of Software

The Autumn General Assembly of SIRIUS was held in Oslo at the end of October 2018. IBM was host for the meeting, which was held at their new customer centre at Grønland. The Chairman of SIRIUS, Knut Sebastian Tungland, Senior Advisor in Equinor, held the following speech.

I will not take much time, and I will not focus much on the inner workings of SIRIUS: we will focus on that the rest of the day. I would like us to reflect on how lucky we are. I am a technology optimist. I believe technology has improved life for humanity and will continue to. I recently read a book by Hans Rosling, called “Factfulness”. Even when the world seems to be getting worse, it’s becoming a better place for most of humanity, partly because of technology.

That does not mean we do not have challenges. Climate, overpopulation, and not least how we behave toward each other, in the estrangement in societies, groups within countries that don’t respect each other, or discuss only through social media, and the growing tension between nations and geographies. Still, I believe technology is part of the solution for meeting and conquering these challenges.

For me, the biggest fascination is software. I think myself lucky to live in its infancy. I read an article about Grace Hopper, one of those women who do not get the recognition they deserve. In the fifties she created the first compiler: a fundamental paradigm for how to exploit computers. The building in which SIRIUS resides is named after a Norwegian software pioneer, Ole-Johan Dahl. This is not long ago. Software is evolving, and we have only seen its beginning.

We are discovering new algorithms and new ways of expressing logic and relationships all the time. Sometimes I think this is how David Livingstone must have felt: there is so much land and so little time to discover and understand it all. I have a hard time prioritizing what to focus on. The number of articles published each day on different software related topics and the number of software communities are overwhelming. I discover new and interesting groups every week. Additional to this is the growing ecosystem of startups, incubators and venture capitalists. Finally, software development is a growing field in large companies like mine. In Equinor, last time I counted, we had over 200 software projects in the research organization alone. This is not counting projects in the IT organization or development done for the operating units.

I also find the relationship, and maybe artificial separation, between data and software fascinating. Cloud, Data Science, Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence have become everyday words for people with no understanding of or focus on the underlying technology. For better or worse, they have great expectations, maybe more than the experts. This is only the beginning. As Marc Andreesen said, “Software is eating the world”. We get to live in this world.

What we are doing is hard work. It is intellectually challenging, it takes time, one has to relate to people. We develop in communities. Sometimes people will not listen, sometimes you will not understand. We will sometimes fail. There are some many roads to take in this landscape, and sometimes we will take the wrong way. But it is fascinating.

We get to be part of an innovation centre where we can address real challenges with technology. Do we make the most of it? Can we do it better? That is what we are here for. But, also, let us enjoy the journey, being part in this exploration.