I read this story a couple of years ago but can't seem to find it since.It's a short story.

The story starts with a programmer debugging a program and not being able to find the bug. Frustrated, he decides to disassemble the program and look at the assembly and found instructions that can't possibly come from the original source code. He then looks at the compiler for the source of the bug and even recompiles the compiler but the alien code still managed to make it into the program.

Then he decides to actually see what the alien code does and finds that it's trying to do something simple like adding two numbers but doing it in a completely non-intuitive way. He concludes that no human would do it that way and starts suspecting a virus.

Later he finds alien code everywhere from the compiler (not in the source of the compiler) to the assembler to the OS down even to the router in his office at which point he begins to suspect that the alien code may even be part or the CPU itself (modern CPUs after all are designed on computers).

The story ends with the programming team receiving a letter from another engineering team (I forget if it's Geneva or Tokyo or somewhere else) stating that they've found the same thing but every effort they've tried to publish their findings got censored by the emerging AI (hence the handwritten letter).

  • 1
    It seems a shame to mark the more accurate question as the duplicate.
    – Beta
    May 28, 2014 at 5:30
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    @Beta Then don't. There's no rule that says the newer question has to be marked in favour of the older one. It's much better to mark the lower quality a dupe of the high quality one. That goes for both question and answer.
    – SQB
    May 28, 2014 at 5:56
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    Then again, the other question has a comment by the author himself.
    – SQB
    May 28, 2014 at 6:06
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    @forest "Thank you, I'm glad you like it! – Lawrence Kesteloot Oct 30, 2013 at 18:51" Unfortunately, the comment was automatically deleted by a user flag, because it starts with "Thank you", meaning that mods can't undelete it :-/
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 31, 2023 at 18:25
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    @Randal'Thor Kind of sad that a comment by the author himself got deleted. Even though it didn't clarify anything I still think it adds something
    – slebetman
    Mar 31, 2023 at 19:17

1 Answer 1


It's "Coding Machines", by Lawrence Kesteloot, one of my favorite AI stories.

  • Yes! That's the one. Thank you. I love it because, being a programmer myself, the description of what it is to debug a program is spot-on.
    – slebetman
    May 28, 2014 at 5:19
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    @slebetman: I think you have to be a programmer to really get this story, to follow the logic, to sense the alien-ness of the weirdly designed code, and grasp the blood-chilling implications of an LED flashing when it really shouldn't.
    – Beta
    May 28, 2014 at 5:29
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    Very nice, that is the answer to the question I never had "What is the worst thing that one could find when debugging?"
    – kutschkem
    Mar 29, 2015 at 18:47
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    I never thought the concept behind Reflections on Trusting Trust would be turned into such a captivating and disturbing short story.
    – forest
    Apr 7, 2018 at 2:00
  • Awesome story! The only thing I would have done differently from them is using a hex editor to remove/overwrite the payload in the compiler binary.
    – Dakkaron
    Jan 10, 2021 at 11:33

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