Science fiction has for millennia provided societies a safe place to experiment with all sorts of outrageous ideas. Take Daedalus and Icarus, the duo that mythically touched the heavens long before Orville and Wilbur Wright physically did so in 1903. Jump forward a little more than six decades and that rickety airplane had morphed into a solid rocket ship carrying Neil Armstrong to his date with destiny on the Moon.

In the years between that first flight off a sand dune and the first lunar landing, science fiction authors have churned out story after story on outrageous notions like space travel or robots, priming inquisitive minds of the young and old. These minds invented the future. For example, Capt. James T. Kirk’s handheld personal communicator of Star Trek fame provided inspiration for Martin Cooper to invent the world’s first cellphone. How many variations of the “pew-pew” stun guns did it take to inspire the development of the buzzing electroshock weapon we know today as the Taser?

Concepts like artificial intelligence and machine learning are no longer fictional. A rudimentary demonstration of a machine’s ability to learn and make its own conclusions can be found in the 1983 movie War Games.

In it, a hacker accesses a U.S. military supercomputer and is posed with the question, “Shall we play a game?” He opts to play Global Thermonuclear War. The supercomputer comes very close to starting World War III, stopping only when—after playing thousands of games of tic-tac-toe that all end in a draw— it learns the only way to win a nuclear war is to never start one.

Today, operators like Hess Corp. are harnessing the power of data analytics and machine learning to improve efficiencies and maximize the value of its Bakken wells.

We’ve come a long way since 1983 and even 1989, the year that “You’ve got mail!” first bellowed from PCs. You find yourself at the beginning of an issue of E&P dedicated in part to unraveling the mysteries of Big Data and how companies are applying it to explore, drill, complete and produce hydrocarbons in a safe and efficient manner.

It is a time wherein we find ourselves managing “zombie data” buried in “data graveyards” or fishing for data whoppers in “data lakes.” There is nothing to fear with Big Data. It is everywhere and in everything.

But the only value derived from it is through careful examination made possible by supercomputers running complex algorithms. The oil and gas industry is not looking to start a nuclear war. It’s just fueling the fourth industrial revolution and ushering in the Age of Digital.