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Physical ComputationA Mechanistic Account$
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Gualtiero Piccinini

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199658855

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199658855.001.0001

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Complex Components of Computing Mechanisms

Complex Components of Computing Mechanisms

(p.162) 9 Complex Components of Computing Mechanisms
Physical Computation

Gualtiero Piccinini

Oxford University Press

This chapter explicates in mechanistic terms complex computing components (e.g., arithmetic-logic units) and complex non-computing components (e.g., memory units) built out of simpler components (and ultimately, decompose into primitive components). The most interesting computing components are processors, which have the function of performing operations on data. The most interesting processors are those whose function is executing instructions. Instructions are strings of digits with an internal semantics. An internal semantics assigns instructions a narrow content: i.e. each instruction is interpreted as representing what the processor is going to do while executing it. Having an internal semantics does not entail that an instruction has any external semantics, i.e. that an instruction represents anything external to the processor, but it does not rule this out either. The functional organization of a processor determines the internal semantics of the instructions it executes. Whether those instructions have an external semantics is an independent matter.

Keywords:   complex computing component, complex non-computing component, instruction execution, internal semantics, external semantics

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