The Characteristics & Limitations of Computers

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Computers operate on binary functions.

Despite the vast applications of which a computer has become capable, at its heart it is nothing more than a string of zeros and ones. The binary system that is the basic element of computer technology can't say anything except "yes" or "no." Computer abilities have been developed by technicians who have learned how to make computers do this extremely quickly.



The hardware of the most common computers consists of a screen, a keyboard and a processing unit. The computer interacts with the person who is using it by taking in information at the keyboard and emitting information through the screen. The binary language that the computer speaks is translated into the language that the human speaks. Computers excel at tasks that require rapidity, repetition and accuracy. Computers function through linear processes, which make them qualitatively different from the human brain, which functions in networks and can perform operations simultaneously.


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Computers are used for record keeping, commerce, long-distance communication, graphic design, entertainment and word processing. As computer technology develops, computers are moving into realms previously dominated by television, telephone and film technology. Many computer engineers believe that computers will eventually fill all the roles formerly fulfilled by all of these technologies, as well as typewriters, sound systems and clocks.



The limitations of computers appear when people try to use them for non-linear and emotional purposes. Computers can easily convey the irrational and emotional thoughts of humans through email, social networking or Skype. However, they can't experience these phenomena themselves. A computer can be programmed to simulate love, madness, exaltation and depression, but it doesn't actually experience these things. Technicians on the cutting edge of computer development discuss at what point a computer could be said to experience emotions or to be sentient. This is a contentious question to which no definitive answer has been found.



The frontiers of computer technology are constantly pushing back the limitations of computers. Virtual reality, interlocking supercomputers and "wetware" -- the merging of computer technology with biological elements -- all hold great promise or threat, depending on a person's perspective. Computer miniaturization presents the possibility of powerful and versatile computers being placed in a pair of eyeglasses, or even attached to or implanted in a person's body. The possibility of a computer actually becoming sentient is much farther off than these developments, but not beyond the realm of possibility, according to futurist Peter Hollings.