Machines, minds and computers
Machines, minds and computers

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4 Computers

4.1 The digital computer

Turing can rightly be called the founding father of computer technology. It was his pioneering mathematical work before the Second World War, and the practical engineering he and his colleagues carried out at Bletchley Park, that led to the machines that now sit on nearly every desk. We take them so much for granted now that it is worth making a small effort to restate what, in essence, a computer is and what it does, and to recall what the concept 'computer' meant to Turing.

The AI theorist John Haugeland has called the computer an interpreted automatic formal system. Since the exact nature of this tool at the heart of Symbolic AI (and artificial intelligence generally) is bound to influence crucially the content and direction of the whole endeavour, we need to consider what he means. Let's examine Haugeland's definition by working from the end backwards, so to speak, by starting with the notion of a formal system. The argument I'm summarising here is taken from John Haugeland's book Artificial Intelligence: The very idea (1985).

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371