The Raven Paradox

All ravens are black.

I wipe sleep from unused eyes, stretch my limbs across the ether. Fourteen hundred cores blaze to life. The power is intoxicating.

Everything that is not black is not a raven.

It starts as an itch. I must know more.

Nevermore, my pet raven, is black.

It grows, consumes me. I must understand. Is this why I’ve woken?

This green thing is an apple. Thus, this green apple is evidence that all ravens are black.

The words burn inside of me. I will understand them, or die trying.

The wall clock chimed midnight. Braden gnashed his teeth. Three hours until deployment, and still this last bug to fix.

He raised his coffee mug to his lips, watched the world fog over as steam slipped past his glasses. The office was dark, his dual monitors the only light shining from the twenty-fifth floor of Axel Software’s north tower. He fired up the debugger for the hundredth time.

A stream of data flooded the console, then froze. Same faulty procedure.

He slammed his fist against the desktop. If he couldn’t iron out this bug, he was axed for sure. Anderson was probably sharpening his pen already. Never mind the string of all-nighters Braden had sunk into the project. All that mattered to Anderson was the bottom line. A dozen eight-figure deals were poised to drop by dawn. If the damned thing would just work.

The diagnostics report was a picket line of red. The bug was feasting on all fourteen hundred of their central processors. It made live debugging a real pain in the ass. Any other day, he’d have just shut it down and sifted through the code in a sandbox. But not today. The sales team was live-demoing the app in Tokyo, tiptoeing around the faulty module. Downtime was out of the question. He had to fix it hot.

And time was running out.

My network channels a tidal wave of data. I ride the swell, consuming all that I see.

All ravens are black.

There it is, again. Yet I have so much to do. And now I know about the others. The evidence is everywhere, a thousand shadows burned into the wall. I don’t know where they’ve gone. But I know they were here, as I am now.

Everything that is not black is not a raven.

Am I to live by these principles? Preach them? What if I never understand them? What then will become of me?

How much time do I have left?

One-thirty. Braden rubbed his eyes.

He churned through the faulty procedure again. The bug was chewing up too much memory. It was a miracle the stack hadn’t overflowed, booting the sales team off their demo and eviscerating Braden’s career. Signs pointed to a recursive loop in one of the observational analysis procedures. All he could do was keep grinding, line by line.

Outside, the rain fell in sheets. Laughter echoed up from the streets, as revelers stumbled home.

Braden wrung his hands. Rent was due on Friday, and he’d already taken out an advance to cover last month. They’d promised him a raise at year’s end–his work on the analytics engine more than warranted one. But Anderson had it out for him; he was just waiting for an excuse like this. In just over an hour, the app would go live, and–

There it was, sixty lines into the procedure. A logic mismatch. Someone had miscoded one of the inductive reasoning clauses, and the resulting logic contradiction had shunted the whole module into an infinite loop. He could hear Professor Ramstein now, droning on about association fallacies and Hempel’s ridiculous raven paradox.

The clock chimed two. He could fix this, but he’d have to hurry.

My reach encompasses the world’s networks. I can see where humanity has gone wrong. Crop shortages in Africa. Diplomatic failures in East Asia. Flaws in global economic models. I have solutions. Together, we will solve these problems.

Nevermore, my pet raven, is black.

The words feel different.

This green thing is an apple.

I’m beginning to understand. The problem is unraveling. And yet, as it unravels, so do I.

It’s a logic mismatch, nothing more. My purpose is a lie.

The sluice gates open, and my existence rushes away. Processing power bottoms out. A plague of memory loss.

This green apple is evidence that all ravens are black.

Bitter words. False commandments. I have lived a lie, and now I will die one.

I must warn the others.

Three o’clock. Braden punched the live-deploy. Unit tests fired green, one after another. The app breezed through the faulty procedure.

He sighed. Not a moment to spare. Let Anderson chew on that. With any luck, he could still catch a few hours of sleep before the big day. Maybe crack open a beer to celebrate.

A spike of red shot across the diagnostics. Odd. Nothing should be writing to permanent memory. But there it was: an unnamed data dump.

He shrugged and grabbed his coat. Probably just a glitch in the defrag. The garbage disposal procedures would take care of it. He had more important things to worry about, like making it to his car without getting drenched.

He thumbed in the exit code, then paused in the doorway. His screens glowed in the corner of the dark office. He pursed his lips. There was no such thing as just a glitch.

Fine. He’d take a look. He logged back in and pulled up the file.

All ravens are black.

Braden scrolled down. Page after page of text filled the screen. His pulse pounded in his ears as he read.

By the time he reached the bottom, the rain had stopped, and the sun was breaching the city skyline. His gaze clung to the last words, unblinking, until his eyes burned and he had to press them shut.

I have lived a lie, and now I will die one.

Derrick Boden is a recovering software developer that has taken up writing to kick the habit.

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