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Unformatted text preview: CSCI 120 Introduction to Computation Introduction (draft) Saad Mneimneh Visiting Professor Hunter College of CUNY 1 About the name The name of this course as officially listed in the catalog is Introduction to Computers. I prefer to call it Introduction to Computation (or computing). The reason is beyond the semantics of the title or even the content of the course. Heres why. It has become clear to me over the years that, whenever students see the word computer, they visualize this thing: Figure 1: Computer ? Well, more or less... Of course, the figure that will register in your mind depends on the setting and on the current technology (which is very dynamic by the way). For instance, I am sure that, to you, a computer would range from being a laptop, to possibly an advanced PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) or a smart phone (hence I will not ask you to turn off your cell phone in class). Nevertheless, Figure 1 is definitely a standard interpretation of the word computer. Next thing you think is that you are going to learn how to use Windows and Microsoft Office, or how to fix your computer if it crashes. This course is not about that. This course is about concepts and notions that are used to build computing devices, with eventually an emphasis of course on the current technologies (todays computers). Heres another reason for using the word computation instead of computers. Lets start with a (rather unclear) definition: com.pu.ta.tion: noun a: the act or action of computing, b: the use or operation of a computer (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Although computation is carried out by a computer (meaning b ), computa- tion is also an abstract notion (meaning a ). It is a process by itself that we find everywhere in nature. To some extent is it independent form the underlying physical machine (e.g. the computer). Computation is what makes the field of computer science, a science. We will explore this notion further when we talk about Algorithms . For the time being, let me attempt to shake or blur Figure 1 in your mind. I will do that by practicing what is called thinking outside the box, the box of Figure 1 that is. I will draw a parallel between a biological process and a few components of a computer that should be familiar to a general audience. This will help interpret the biological process as a computation. But more importantly, this computation, being biological in nature, does not require the computer of Figure 1. 2 Who said the first computer was invented in the 1940s? An important question in biological sciences is what makes life? A simple answer is Proteins and Nucleic Acids. Proteins are responsible for almost all body functions. Nucleic acids encode information necessary to produce the proteins and pass this recipe to subsequent generations (permanent storage). We have two kinds of nucleic acids: ribonucleic acids RNAs and dioxy-ribonucleic acids DNAs....
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This note was uploaded on 03/27/2010 for the course CSCI 120 taught by Professor Saadmneimneh during the Spring '09 term at CUNY Hunter.
- Spring '09