What is beautiful about Computer Science?

April 18, 2014 by in category Computer Science, Opinions, Technology tagged as , , , , , , with 0 and 1
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The beauty of computer science comes from the abstraction of everything we use and everything we interact with every day. The immaculate integration of computers into our every-day lives with such a gigantic nuclear impact on everything we do now but with such little recognition. To me, the beauty of computer science comes in the ability to step back from all the technology we surround ourselves in and be able to understand and marvel at its complexity and magic. Every single file and word you write is stored on a platter inside a hard drive that has a lightning-quick arm that flicks back and forth along the polished surface, polarising the disk to so that every micrometer can be read in a binary format and translated back up to the Central Processing Unit (CPU). This sequence of “bits” is then fed steadily into this microchip in the centre of your computer called a CPU but if you’re a computer scientist, you know that this is a “black box” and walking in through the entrance of a CPU is like kicking open the doors of the T.A.R.D.I.S. This black box has vast arching ceilings with vines of circuitry crawling along every wall – enveloping every room; connecting them. This cornucopia of activity buzzes with life as everything moves to-and-fro at almost instantaneous speeds; dragging its payload from one hub to another, exchanging and transforming it for something new.


Inside the CPU are more black boxes. We can delve inside the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) and witness how equations and calculations are fed in piece-by-piece; often in an inhuman format. The ALU takes “4” then “20” then “+” and spits out “24”. It digests the information it’s fed and spits back an answer but then you look closer and you realise that each operator has its own division of circuitry that accepts two operands and pushes it through an obstacle course of logic gates to successfully operate on our input and give us back what we want. But then you realise that when you put in “4”, it takes that input and transforms it into something completely different. While we evolved to calculate with a base 10 because of our fingers, a computer doesn’t understand what we understand. As a result, the ALU accepts our “4” but divides it and translates it into a completely different language: binary. Putting in “4”, is the same as putting in “100”. Wait, stop. Why is “4”, 100? Now you have to stop and contemplate why is “4”, “4”? What says that this scratching has any meaning at all? As a Computer Scientist, the abstraction of technology is apparent but the abstraction of our own language and our system in life is an abstraction of meaning in itself. Someone arbitrarily designated a scratch on a piece of parchment to signify the value “four” and to dictate what that means in terms of mathematics and in terms of language to what we know today. If a CPU isn’t beautiful, then I don’t know what is.

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