I bought a cool toy. It cleverly computes the trajectory of a cute wagging tail without using a universal Turing machine, or anything similar.
Carrying on the great jellymatter tradition of expressing a similar opinion under a contrary title, here’s my response to James’ post about brains and computers.
Before I begin, here’s the etymology of the word computer from www.etymonline.com:
1640s, “one who calculates,” agent noun from compute. Meaning “calculating machine” (of any type) is from 1897; in modern use, “programmable digital electronic computer” (1945; theoretical from 1937, as Turing machine). ENIAC (1946) usually is considered the first. Computer literacy is recorded from 1970; an attempt to establish computerate (adj., on model of literate) in this sense in the early 1980s didn’t catch on. Computerese “the jargon of programmers” is from 1960, as are computerize and computerization.
I’ve been trying to work out what is and isn’t a computer. There are some different ideas about this, and I’m not totally sure myself. So here’s some thoughts I’ve been thinking for a while and felt like jotting down, in case anyone feels like criticising. It’s the kind of question that might seem abstract or trivial (I mean, everyone knows what a computer is, right?) But I want to know when it’s fair to call something a computer or not. I’m not talking about the differences between iPads and desktop PCs and laptops and smartphones – they are obviously all computers. I mean questions like is your brain a computer.