Making a Digital Computer Do Something Useful
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.
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