We’re all paranoid androids (Jameson)

After “knowing” it on a superficial, theoretical level since the beginning of the course, I think I now understand on a deeper level what “computing” really means. I knew that computing existed before our modern conception of “computers” (what is referred to as “automatic computers”), but these readings flushed out the idea further and illustrated that what we think of as “computers” (AC) are really just bundles of calculations and processes that humans could theoretically do themselves (albeit at a much, much slower pace). Walking through the Python tutorial, and manipulating the “inputs” for the code, I could see that the program was, on a basic level, running calculations. It could solve math problems. Moving up a conceptual level, it could tell the date and time. Moving up even more, it could synthesize information from different lines or variables together. It was performing calculations and initiating processes that humans are capable of, but just automated.

Another concept that became much more clear this week was the idea of binary and how it can be used in computing to create commands. I could understand the concept of binary as a language on its own, and separately I could understand the idea of computer programming code, but I didn’t understand how the two worked together and talked to each other. The binary tree was particularly helpful in illustrating how binary can be used to send messages or operations, merely using “yes” and “no.” I could also see how a particular value or operation, which was the result of a series of “yes”es and “no”s, could be assigned a label or signifier. For example, a value resulting from “no,” “yes,” “yes,” “no,” in a particular tree is distinct from all other possible values in that tree. It has its own distinct signified, and the series of “yes” or “no”s is, in a way, like its signifier.

One final thought I had was regarding the definition of “language” as used in “Introduction to Computing.” According to David Evans, a language “is a set of surface forms and meanings, and a mapping between the surface forms and their associated meanings.” [1] In comparing this to our understanding of language and meaning-making as discussed in class so far, it seems more akin to the de Saussure model of semiotics rather than Peirce’s triadic model. Evans’ conception of “surface forms and meanings” would be the signifier, while the conception of “associated meanings” would be the signified. The “mapping between” the two is similar to the idea of a black-box, but does not specify that there is an essential interpretant. This seems to be a more binary, if you will, way of thinking about language.



[1] Evans, David. Introduction to Computing: Explorations in Language, Logic, and Machines. United States, David Evans, 2011.