What is a Computer?

Learning Objectives:

A computer is a device that can perform actions on input (which is also called data). The actions are specified by a program, which is a sequence of instructions. A computer doesn’t really even have to be electronic. Did you know that there were female computers? The Harvard computers were hired to do astronomical calculations. Computer was a job title, like waiter or doctor.

The Harvard Computers from 1913

Figure 1: The Harvard Computers of 1913

Computers today are electronic, but it’s possible to build a computer with light, or DNA, or even TinkerToys. All computers manipulate data based on instructions.

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