Jacek Karpiński (1927-2010) was a Polish pioneer in computer engineering and computer science, sometimes referred to as the “Polish Bill Gates”. But due to the absurdities of the communist rule in the Polish People’s Republic, his career never flourished.
During WW2 he was a soldier, first in the Gray Ranks (underground paramilitary Polish Scouting Association) which he entered at the age of 14, covering his young age, later in the Batalion Zośka of the Home Army (anti-nazi and anti-communist Polish resistance troops). Among many activities, he took a part in the successful Operation Kutschera (as a member of reconnaissance team) and the 1944 Warsaw Uprising when he was heavily wounded, just at the age of 17. Although successfully recovered, the damages of his spine made him limp for the rest of his life. He was awarded multiple times with a Cross of Valour.
After the war he became a developer of one of the first machine learning algorithms, techniques for character and image recognition. In 1959 he constructed AKAT-1 [image below], world’s first transistor differential analyzer, designed to solve systems of differential equations and modeling processes.
After receiving a UNESCO award in 1960, he got a permission from the Polish government to study for 2 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard University. In the early 1960s he participated in founding of the Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence of the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 1968 he constructed KAR-65 [first image, with his team], a transistor-based computer designed for analyzing particle collision data from CERN.
Although he was widely respected for his mind and achievements on the field of science, the communist government never stopped persecuting or controlling him on the account of his former involvement with the Home Army and participation in the Warsaw Uprising, both known for their anti-communist sentiment at the time of the war. Such problem was common among thousands of Polish war veterans, and first of the reasons of Polish emmigration from the country after the war.
In 1971 Karpiński designed one of the first minicomputers, the K-202 [image above]. Because of the policy on computer development in the communist-controlled Poland, branch belonging to the Comecon that time, K-202 was never mass-produced.
Due to friction resulting from competition with Elwro, a government-backed competitor, the production of K-202 was blocked and Karpiński thrown out of his company under the allegiations of sabotage and embezzlement.
He backed off and became a pig farmer [above: Karpiński in 1978]. In 1981, after receiving a passport, he emigrated for few years to Switzerland.
He came back in 1990, after Poland’s transformation to democracy, but the new reality and politics, still interwoven with old communist personalities, appeared to be financially overwhelming. Before his death, he was earning for a living by designing websites.
All images via O.pl Polski Portal Kultury.
In Polish: “Zniszczyć konstruktora”, “Polski Bill Gates i świnie”, “Jacek Karpiński hodował świnie na znak protestu?”, “Zapomniany polski Bill Gates: Jacek Karpiński wyprzedził swoją epokę o kilkadziesiąt lat”.