Experimental 'insult bot' gets out of hand during unsupervised weekend

Creators ticked off for running CPU flat out over the break

Swearing and ranting

Who, Me? It's that time of the week again, where Reg readers 'fess up to IT errors and jokes that went awry, in the hope of some catharsis.

Since it's a Bank Holiday for those in the UK, today we've chosen a tale from "Gary" in which some harmless fun got out of hand over a weekend.

Back in 1984, Gary was working in the research arm of a large corporation and was "let loose" on an IBM System 370 running VM/CMS.

He described the setup thus: "A pair of 22MHz floating point CPUs with each VM having about 4 megs of RAM. Huge and fast compared with a PC XT."

It also had a Rexx interpreter on it, which allowed his team to "write scripts in Rexx and generally mess around" – and is where our story begins.

"One guy wrote an 'insult' program that would send a silly message to the console queue on somebody else's display," Gary explained.

By itself, he said, that was "fairly harmless".

But then Gary spiced things up by writing a Multi-User Dungeon that used the features of Rexx to build the dungeon while exploring it.

"In fact, about all you could do was extend the maze," he said, somewhat anticlimactically, adding that while the team sometimes used the rooms as chat rooms, "nothing much happened".

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Until... the first insult program got turned into a bot that would roam Gary's dungeon and occasionally insult anyone else who was in there.

"If you 'insulted' it back, it would reply with another insult," he said.

"Normally while at work there would always be a human around to be insulted by the bot, so the exchanges were brief."

And so everyone logged off and went home for the weekend, unaware of the looming danger.

The bot discovered a user to insult. Itself.

"It did that for an entire weekend, at 100 per cent CPU load, as nobody else was running batch jobs for circuit simulation, or whatever the labs had that mainframe for," Gary recalled.

"At that time," Gary continued, "CPU was charged at a notional £30,000 a day or something like that, being how the whole IT department was funded on a basis proportional to the mainframe use.

"We had just run one CPU flat out for a weekend."

But, "after a bit of telling off" they got a discount. "Our project was only charged 50 per cent of the full rate."

Suffice to say, the team never ran that bot again.

Have you ever made a costly mistake? Tell Who, Me? all about it and we might feature it in an upcoming column. ®




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