The golden rule of understanding computers

The golden rule of understanding computers

Decoding the magic for the technically-bewildered

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Paul Hennell
·Mar 6, 2023

There's a fundamental rule that the tech-proficient understands which many lay people seem to ignore. But while there is much talk of the non-technical folks' belief in "the magic of computers" there's less explicit talk of the one real truth behind all computer tasks:

Computers only do what we tell them

That's it. That's the fundamental secret to understanding tech.

For all that we talk about smartphones, bots and AI's and fancy algorithms - all of this stuff is only ever doing what we say.

Now it might be we don't totally understand what we're asking it to do. Maybe it's doing something we didn't intend but it's following the letter of the instructions, not the spirit.

Maybe you (as the user) might be confusing it with instructions that go against the software developer or operating system provider's instructions. Maybe it's trying to do something that makes no sense at all because we're telling it to print a file and it thinks that file is a sound. How do you print a sound? I don't know, so it's not a surprise a computer doesn't.

This is a rule we don't talk about much, but when computers go wrong it's pretty fundamental.

Computers are logical interpreters of instructions. That's it. They only ever do what we tell them.

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