08 Mar 2018   |   Network News

Rid of routine coding: AI automates the construction of large information systems

A new technology under development will bring down development costs so much that complex systems can be built from scratch. Photo: Aki-Pekka Sinikoski.

Business Finland has granted 678,000 euros to a team lead by Aalto University’s Jussi Rintanen for the commercialisation of a new information system technology based on artificial intelligence. Rintanen wants not only to automate the development of large information systems but also to integrate all parts of software development into a single functioning whole.

Information systems projects in health care and in public sector administration, for instance, are highly labour intensive. The whole information system market in Finland is worth about two billion euros annually, and worldwide the figure is about 200 billion.

Information systems projects with overruns in time and costs, or projects that cannot be completed at all, suffer from the same basic problem: a massive amount of routine programming work whose management is extremely difficult. Building entire systems from scratch with a modern programming language would require a vast amount of work. This is why old systems often end up being expanded and modified, even though the original system or the end result might not meet the needs of organisations or users.

‘Large information systems are often based on ancient program code and old-fashioned programming languages. For example, the Apotti system used by the healthcare sector in Finland is built on old program code in MUMPS, a language first developed in the 1960s,’ says Rintanen.

The innovation developed by Rintanen and his colleagues automates these kinds of extensive projects: the need for conventional programming will decrease and programming will get considerably easier. Development costs go down so much that designers can start off with a clean slate when building information systems to meet their customers’ needs.

Bringing automated reasoning and decision-making on par with humans

The technology designed by Rintanen and his colleagues is based on automated reasoning and combinatorial search methods. In conventional programme development, a programmer focuses on the details of the code, while in the new technology the programmes are synthesised by search methods and logical inference from a high-level abstract specification. The new approach is also to be expanded further with automated decision making, which will make computer systems smarter than they are now.

 ‘The goal is to make software more flexible and to get it to better understand how the world outside the information system operates. For instance, in health care, information systems could take more responsibility in performing administrative tasks and decision making. This kind of intelligence is programmed once and after that the programmer won’t need to design or implement further functions,’ Rintanen explains. 

The threshold for trying out all kinds of business models and ideas will also lower as the production of software becomes cheaper and faster. For instance, the costs of establishing and designing websites and online stores will fall and they can easily be made more versatile than now.

‘There are currently software products on the market that compete with our innovation, but they do not achieve high degrees of automation and do not eliminate the need for routine programming. For instance, products by IBM and Oracle help in the development of individual software components, for example data management or user interfaces, but the problem of how to integrate the many different components remains unsolved,’ Rintanen adds.

This release was first published 6 March 2018 by Aalto University.