Introduction to What is Computation
Denning, Peter J.
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What is computation? This has always been the most fundamental question of our field. In the 1930s, as the field was starting, the answer was that computation was the action of people who operated calculator machines. By the late 1940s, the answer was that computation was steps carried out by automated computers to produce definite outputs. That definition did very well: it remained the standard for nearly fifty years. But it is now being challenged. People in many fields have accepted that computational thinking is a way of approaching science and engineering. The Internet is full of servers that provide nonstop computation endlessly. Researchers in biology and physics have claimed the discovery of natural computational processes that have nothing to do with computers. How must our definition evolve to answer the challenges of brains computing, algorithms never terminating by design, computation as a natural occurrence, and computation without computers?
The article of record as published may be found at http://doi.org/10.1093/comjnl/bxs065
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