Computer philosophy 1-0-1-0

In this guest post by TR member TobiF, he compiled together a few computer-related aphorisms that were shared by the TR community in a philosophical discussion thread.

This post was written by TechRepublic member TobiF.

A while ago, a bunch of TR members scratched their heads and stretched their minds towards the existential and philosophical side of computing. As a result, we came up with quite a few computer-related aphorisms. Here’s the result.

I hope the title doesn’t scare you too much. In order to make this whole thing easier for a computer to grasp, I’ll use binary numbers. The binary number 1010 is the same as hexadecimal 0xA – or in daily talk, 10. Let’s get started.

0001: You say you don't understand computers, but do the computers understand you?

According to one of my theories, even though you think computers are complicated, you do more than a computer does, because computers:

  • don’t think
  • don’t know anything
  • don’t understand anything

Computers just do. They follow instructions. When a computer follows instructions written by a really smart guy, then we may get an illusion believe that the computer is smart.

0010: Computers are the quickest idiots on earth...

Any CEO will confirm that idiots can be very useful or even essential. Especially if the idiots are good at following instructions, do things very fast, and have a large memory.

0011: Computers are only as smart as the person who runs them; That being said, they are often stupid.

Here, NexS reminds us not to blame the computer if it can’t construe instructions with unexpected syntax or if the instructions don’t align with your expectations.

0100: Computers are stupid, they only do what you tell them.

I’m so glad PurpleSkys said this about computers, and not about men. But she's got a point. Especially women are good at figuring out what you really want, even if you don't know it yourself.

0101: Computers are stupid, they can only count to one.

In reply to point 0100, Darryl reminded us about how basal the computers knowledge is. The computers multiplication table can be learned in 3 minutes:





Adding is actually more complicated:





The parenthesis in the last line means that the result is 0, but you also need to carry over "1" to the next level.

0110: There's no place like /home. (NT)

This entry from seanferd really caught me. Yes, I agree totally with the initial statement. But I tried hard to understand, why he added this (NT) at the end. Could he be talking about Windows NT? Probably not, as opposed to UNIX and some other systems, NT uses $HOMEPATH$, instead.

Or was he referring to the “New Testament”? The Book of Proverbs belongs to the Old Testament, whereas this kind of proverb can't be found anywhere in a traditional bible. Thus NNT, might have been more correct.

By the way, in these days, when you look around, it can be hard to tell whether you really are at /home, or just in a cloned copy.

(I think I figured it out. “NT” means that there's no (meaningful) text in the post, except for the title itself.)

0111: Memory doesn't have any speed. The marking is just a declaration of the speed this memory should be able to handle...

This one is really philosophical. RAM and even processors don’t have any speed in themselves. They only have latency. If you clock them so high that you try to use output before it has stabilized, then in the best case, you'll get garbage output. In the worst case, your computer will turn into garbage.

1000: More's law

For each year, you will need MORE processors, memory, and connectivity to do the same tasks as before! We have heard so much about the famous Moore’s law. I think we need one more law about the continuous expansion. Let’s see if it will stay true, as well.

1001: Haiku:

Chaos? Composure!

PCs are mere silicon;

sand through your fingers.


1010 The question of whether computers can think is just like the question of whether submarines can swim.

NexS helped us to find this statement by Edsger W. Dijkstra (1930--2002), Dutch computer scientist. It’s a deep one. I won’t tell you how to understand it. Just a warning: While elaborating on this statement, don’t put your laptop into your tub!