What is a computer? I guess the easiest way I can explain it is as a little machine that
follows very specific instructions over and over. A computer cannot learn and, unless
told to do so, won’t respond to anything. Think of it as a very dumb dog that you have to
teach to catch a ball every day and every time you want to play.1
Computers do very complex math. Mind you, it is always related to the basics: add,
subtract, multiply and divide. But as anyone who has had algebra and calculus will tell
you: if you do enough of these basics, you can get approximations of more sophisticated
math that are pretty close to reality. Computers do this math very quickly. Often these
calculations are done in millions per second. Imagine multiplying 10 million pairs of
multi-digit numbers per second. I have a hard enough time myself doing a 3-digit
multiplication in less than a minute.
Computers can store a vast amount of information and retrieve it at extraordinary speeds.
When everything works correctly, this data is as fresh and unblemished by time as when
it was first stored. It can record information about everything (given it has sufficient
storage capacity). While this may not seem to be a great achievement, think about this:
when you last went to the store, how much did you pay for each item you bought?
Computers can store this kind of information a lot better than we can recall it. Also, one
of those CD-ROMs that we see so frequently can store the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica
along with photos. (Please note that if you buy their CD-ROM set, it has more than just
text and photos. So, the set has several CD-ROMs.)
What have computers done for us? Consider the following:
1. Made the world incredibly smaller by facilitating communications.
2. Advanced science and medical discovery more in 10 years than in centuries of
3. Designed cars, roads, cities, clothing, etc.
4. Tested transportation long before the prototypes ever left their...