Computer definition


Question a student brought up, I am curious what the community thinks:

If we use input, storage, process, and output as our definitions of computers, are humans computers by that definition?


Historically, yes. See: Hidden Figures – all of the women who crunched numbers were called “computers.” Also pick up a pre-WWII dictionary and the definition of computer is a person.

People are certainly a kind of computer. “What is a computer” can be an interesting - and basically philosophical - question which I think is the issue this lesson is supposed to raise. Does “toaster” fit this definition too?

To bring it in line with modern understanding of what a computer is probably involves getting specific about exactly what is being computed upon. Is it digitally stored information, or is it bread?


This comes up every year that I do the what is a computer lesson. Its awesome discussion and I never really give an answer to the students. I really like the fact that they get to apply the definition and decide themselves. I also emphasize the idea that they can change their minds throughout the year as they learn more and revisit the idea.


And just to point out there is no “right” answer in many cases, when we ran this lesson at headquarters, we had lots of disagreements over which of the objects should be classified as a computer. (And sorry, Baker, I think I might disagree with you on humans being computers!)

I’m glad to hear that students are coming up with such great questions and really thinking about the definition. It sounds like you guys are fostering great classroom culture.