KRYPTOS: The Database that Programmed Itself

Many years ago (in the pre-PC era), I designed and developed a self-learning program called KRYPTOS. Without going into killer detail, KRYPTOS was a program that stored its own source code in a database that KRYPTOS itself could read and write.

One of the initial uses of the program was to analyze any database structure to identify improvement opportunities, then reprogram itself to convert the existing database to a new structure. Since KRYPTOS itself was stored in the database, it was able to update its own source code to incorporate new functionality as well. Each new version incorporated new knowledge and expanded its potential uses.

Of course, the technology of the day made this process extremely cumbersome and (to be honest) errorprone, so KRYPTOS needed a lot of my personal TLC to evolve itself in the right direction.

In spite of the lack-luster performance (it could take days for a single conversion), I implemented the program for a few customer sites. They were estatic because it saved them tons on the then-essential data conversion projects necessary to take advantage of evolving technology.

I had no idea that I was at the time developing a precursor to Machine-learning-based Artificial Intelligence.

Struggling with Social Conscience / Ethics of Technology

So, what happened on my paved path to becoming a well-known IT Titan billionaire? The program did everything I envisioned it would do even though performance was dreary.

Although the concept was too far ahead of the then-available hardware, that didn’t worry me. I was convinced that evolving hardware improvements would eventually give KRYPTOS the power to perform at super-sonic speeds.

What killed my aspirations was fear. I looked into the future and recognized (meaning overestimated) the social risk that KRYPTOS posed. I envisioned how it could cost millions of people their jobs and disrupt societies around the world. I started to have nightmares in which the monster machine I had created learned how to govern people and took over entire countries.

That scared the hell out of me. I quit maintaining the few installs I had and let them naturally become obsolete. After a couple of years without updates, the programs became worthless.

Our World Will Always Adapt to Change

So, flash forward to today. A lot of today’s blog posts report how AI could replace not just the mundane, repeatable tasks but even target the intellectual world of Business Analysis. Was I then precient?

No, I was just a totally uniformed 20-something that developed what I thought was a social conscience and then made a lot of wrong assumptions about the impact my work would have. I totally misjudged how resilient society is.

Societies Need Disruption to Grow

Yes, Artificial Intelligence based on Machine Learning is disruptive, but so was the invention of the wheel, of gunpowder, of the Gutenberg Printing Press, and more recently, of the Internet. Actually, disruption is what societies need to grow.

Societies evolve with every new idea. Some members figure out how to take advantage of the new and flourish; others cling to the old and only surrender when all other options are exhausted. But change happens. Always has. Always will. I’m sure AI will present us with challenges of which we are not aware in the immediate future, but I am no longer afraid. Not for my generation nor for that of my grandchildren (of which I have many!). They will find ways to prosper in the new economy.

Thinking back, I was probably an idiot for making the decision I did, but at the time, it seemed like the only right thing to do. What the heck, I probably would have made a lousy billionaire, anyway.

 Long Live AI!

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