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Inside the Machine by Jon Stokes

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The File-Clerk Model of Computing

The “calculator” model of computing, while useful in many respects, isn’t the only or even the best way to think about what computers do. As an alternative, consider the following definition of a computer:

A computer is a device that shuffles numbers around from place to place, reading, writing, erasing, and rewriting different numbers in different locations according to a set of inputs, a fixed set of rules for processing those inputs, and the prior history of all the inputs that the computer has seen since it was last reset, until a predefined set of criteria are met that cause the computer to halt.

We might, after Richard Feynman, call this idea of a computer as a reader, writer, and modifier of numbers the “file-clerk” ...

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