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After DigitalComputation as Done by Brains and Machines$
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James A. Anderson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199357789

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2018

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199357789.001.0001

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Making a Digital Computer Do Something Useful

(p.35) Chapter 4 Software
After Digital

James A. Anderson

Oxford University Press

Digital computers are “protean” in that they can become almost anything through software. Their basic design elements came from a 19th-century British tradition in logic, exemplified by Boole and Babbage. It seemed natural to have logic realized in hardware. This tradition culminated in the work of Alan Turing who proposed a universal computing machine, now called a Turing machine, based on logic. Although hardware that computes logic functions lies at the core of digital hardware, low-level practical machine operations are grouped together in “words.” Programs are based on hardware operations controlling computation at the word level. This chapter presents a detailed example of what a computer does when it actually “computes.” Because human cognition finds it hard to use such an alien device, there is a brief discussion of how programming became “humanized” with the invention of software tools like assembly language and FORTRAN.

Keywords:   Alan Turing, Turing machine, Lovelace, software, Boole, Babbage, computer words, FORTRAN, machine language, assembly language

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