The fundamental definition
of a computer

There is one lesson which people who use computers never truly learn. Even the most expert computer scientist or software engineer occasionally forgets this lesson, and that oversight is the single most frequent cause of so-called "computer errors". (They call them "bugs", to shift blame.)


A "computer" is a machine
that does exactly what you tell it to do,
instead of what you meant.

The above definition was formulated in 1962
by Bruce A. Martin (then a Physics student
at what is now Polytechnic University).

A corollary

Most "computer errors" stem from a fundamental limitation of our species, to wit:

The human mind is incapable of ever fully comprehending how incredibly stupid, naive, and simple-minded a computer (or other machine) really is.
This corollary was formulated about a dozen years later,
while teaching as an Adjunct Professor at
Suffolk County Community College).

A "computer" is a machine

The word "machine" is singularly appropriate to describe what a computer really is, and also serves to remind us of the need to take into account the fundamental definition when using one.

A machine does not second-guess its master, any more than an automobile corrects your wrong turns. When given orders, a machine does not make judgements, find fault with its orders, fill in the gaps, interpret ambiguities, anticipate problems, or strive to make you happy (or sad). One might say that a machine doesn't care, but that would be unfair to all machinekind: a machine was built to very carefully perform exactly what the caring or uncaring programmer said.

Nor does a machine grumble, evade, make excuses, conveniently forget, or procrastinate. Instead, an electronic computing machine goes merrily along at the speed of light, performing the stupid, idiotic, semantics determined by the parsed syntactic sequence which you fed to it. The program or macro or commands or mouse clicks said more or less what you wanted, and what you had in mind was the only reasonable interpretation of what you actually said. In fact, nobody in his right mind would ever do what the stupid computer just did!

Yes, "machinery" is the ideal word to describe computers, even tho the Association for Computing Machinery keeps trying to eliminate the word from its name.

To be continued . . .

What Aristotle and Homer said about computers
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