Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Computers Can Do Anything


My first (and laziest) approach was to name this post, “What A Computer Can’t Do.” And leave it blank. Funny but not informative. The alternative is to try to explain just how powerful a computer can be. Not only that, but how truly powerful is the idea of a computer. To do justice to that concept would take more than a book. So here’s my short cut.

Initially, there were only special purpose computers, e.g., to calculate artillery trajectories or break enemy codes. The geniuses who developed those machines saw the potential for greater applications. One, Alan Turing, defined a mathematical abstraction that came to be known as the Universal Turing Machine. As a result, the computers we use today are known as general purpose computers. They are truly universal; they can do anything.

It’s all a question of how to do it. If you can figure out how to do it, you can program a computer to do it. Some things, like strong artificial intelligence (look it up), aren’t easy to figure out. And others, like really big problems, are not so much hard to figure out as impractical to implement.

However, most problems are comprehendible and therefore possible, sometimes even easy, to implement. Then it comes down to the big question: Is it more rewarding than some other equally implementable problem? Why this instead of that?

All of which is irrelevant if no one has the imagination to identify the problem, and/or the imagination to see the value of a solution. The hardest part of solving any problem is a clear and accurate definition. Many problems remain in our lives because no one has had the clear vision (William Blake’s definition of genius) to identify and quantify them.

Of course, some problems are solved for the shear joy of solving them. Well, maybe a few. Most are solved because enough people are in need of a solution. Or can be convinced they need it. In other words, some one figured out how to profit from it.

So, the next time you wonder why your computer (even the computer in your cell phone) can’t do a simple thing that would make your life easier, you know it’s because someone didn’t see the value of doing it. Don’t let them blame the computer. If it can be done, a computer can do it

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