David’s mini spy thriller prompted by our trigger word, ‘Secret.’
By David R Graham 28.01.2016
I am going to let you into my secret.
First, I have to tell you about esolangs. Stay with me. Esolangs are short for esoteric programming languages, which are computability languages designed to test the boundaries of computer language designs, as proofs of concepts, as models, or, in my case back then, as brainteasers.
The use of esoteric distinguishes these languages from programming languages that working developers use to write software. Usually, an esolang’s creator does not intend the language for mainstream programming. Nevertheless—very soon after I realised that esolang’s were Turing complete, i.e. could complete any logarithm—I began to do just that.
I was aided in this realisation when I began to formulate the esolang’s as cellular automata that produced a regular grid of cells, each in a finite number of states, such as on and off. The interesting thing was that for each of these cells a set of cells called the cell neighbourhood were defined relative to the specified cell. An initial state (time t = 0) is selected by assigning a state for each cell and a new generation is created according to a new esolang function that determines the new state for each neighbourhood cell in terms of the current state of a specified cell. Typically, the rule for updating the state of the cells is the same for each cell and does not change over time. This was very interesting, and a kernel of an idea began to take shape in my mind.
That nascent idea was nourished and nurtured when I applied Lambda calculus to the neighbourhood cell functions and discovered two simplifications. One, Lambda calculus treated such functions anonymously, did not assign them explicit names, and wrote the functions in an anonymous form. The second simplification was that Lambda calculus only used functions of a single input. So the ordinary cell functions, and those of their neighbourhood cells that required two inputs, were reworked into an anonymous function that accepted a single input. And, as output—to my surprise I have to confess—returned another anonymous function, that in turn produced a single input that as output returned another anonymous function that in turn produced a single input that as output returned another anonymous function.
It was a eureka moment.
I realised that not only were such functions anonymous they were also invisible to all but the program that was generating them and would—unless it was shut down I quickly realised—continue to produce such functions in their anonymous and invisible realm ad infinitum.
I name my new program Kryptós.
Back in 98, when all this began, I was working on a PDA money transfer system for Elon Musk at X.com in Omaha Nebraska. It was straightforward programming and I was relatively happy with my lot. That all changed in 2002 when—much to my surprise, and delight—I was invited to join Max Levchin, Peter Theil, Luke Nosek, and Ken Howery on the new money transfer system they were working on called Confinity, which was actually being funded by my boss, X.com’s John Malloy.
I took Kryptós along with me.
I soon found the work for Confinity much more challenging and rewarding than programming PDA’s and two years later I made a smooth transition to a brand new company with a brand new focus when Confinity merged with X.com.
The new company went into the money transfer in a big way and grew like the proverbial runaway snowball. So much so, that by 2010, it was processing 100 million active user accounts in 190 markets through 25 different currencies.
Well with so much material to work with it wasn’t long before I was trying out Kryptós.
It honestly started out as a pure exercise to test Kryptós’ ability to deal with the ever-growing workload I had at my disposal.
In order to explain what Kryptós was able to do—and is still doing undetected to this day—I have to try to explain in a very basic way what my job for the new company was. I wrote the program that handled the exchange rates for the 25 currencies. Now 25 currencies doesn’t sound like much. But multiply that by the 100 million accounts we were handling back then and you end up with 2500 million.
OK, not all those accounts were active at the same time. But most of them were active most of the time. That meant lots of currencies changing hands lots of the time. But get this, today my program handles the currency exchange rate for 184 million accounts.
Although at first what I was doing with Kryptós was strictly illegal, it was not criminal. What was happening was that Kryptós was taking small change from every money transfer and moving that change around. I’ll explain that in a moment.
At the time, a part of me wanted Kryptós to red flag somewhere. If it had, I would have trashed it. But it didn’t. Kryptós was anonymous, and invisible.
Here’s what Kryptós was doing—in its anonymous realm. It was looking at millions of money transfers that were not whole numbers. There were hundreds of thousands of them, thousands of thousands of them moving around 24/7, and when Kryptós found them it would round up every penny, dime, kopek, pul, qindarka, santeem, centime, luma, fil, centime, chetrum, centavo, fening, sen, etc, etc, to whole numbers. But, since Kryptós’ functions were anonymous, the bits and pieces it used to round up with were in a virtual sense invisible.
Since 2010, when my illegal activity morphed into criminal activity, Kryptós’ has accrued the equivalent of 16.85 million USD. This is where the criminal activity came into play. In order to access that money, I had to make it visible. I had to make it real. So Kryptós’ divided what was then 6.85 million USD into 68,500 equal parts of 100,000 USD and played the exchange rate across what was then the 25 currencies. Today Kryptós’ is performing the same function exponentially with 16.85 million USD across 180 currencies.
In order to deal with this ever-growing amount of money Kryptós has opened one thousand savings accounts in each of those 180 countries. That’s 180,000 accounts. That sounds like a lot. But Kryptós set them all up within 24 hours and then disguised the accruing interest by bumping up the amounts of money incinerated each day in each of the 180 countries. That’s a lot of hard cash.
So the bottom line is that I have close on 17 million USD in 180,000 savings accounts in 180 countries being administered by Kryptós. Now I know some of you brighter ones are thinking, ‘Hang on a minute. If all that money is invisible, how do you ever get to spend it? Well that’s the beauty of the whole thing. Money is not real; it is especially not real in the cyber world, the world of electronic money, the world where Kryptós lives and operates. It is a world where trillions of money transfers transact every second and trillions of fractional profits accrue.
I am going to let you into my secret now.
Back in 2012, in order to process the vast amount of personal data they were dealing with the company I work for installed an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. That’s Gene with a G. Today Kryptós lives and functions inside that beautiful machine taking millions of bits of money off millions of accounts and sending them at lightning speed to international accounts and apparently will continue to do so ad infinitum.
Ok. Here’s my secret.
For the past five years, I have been the Director of the Fraud Detection Unit at PayPal.