Expanded Definition of Computer

TO:         Prof. Jason Ellis

FROM:     Jared Williams

DATE:         Oct 27, 2021

SUBJECT:     Expanded Definition of Computer


The purpose of this document is to expand upon the definition of the word computer. In this document we will explore the various definitions of the term computer, the historical context surrounding the change in meaning of the term, and the way the term computer is used now.


The first definition of computer in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a person who makes calculations or computations; a calculator, a reckoner; spec. a person employed to make calculations in an observatory, in surveying, etc.” [1, def. 1].  The second definition of Computer in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a device or machine for performing or facilitating calculation” [1, def. 2]. Both of [1]’s definitions state that mathematical calculation is involved, but they both differ regarding who or what is performing them.

From the 5th edition of McGraw-Hill’s Concise Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, a computer is “a device that receives, processes, and presents information. The two basic types of computers are analog and digital,” [2, p. 519] and from the 7th edition of A Dictionary of Computer Science, “A device or system that is capable of carrying out a sequence of operations in a distinctly and explicitly defined manner” [3, p.?]. These definitions strictly speak about machines performing calculations, no longer mentioning a person performing calculations.

The term computer originally referred to a human being who was incredibly skilled in mathematical computation but over time, the term fell more in line with the definitions of [2] and [3]. Historians may be the only people who refer to the original definition of a computer since their field of study has to do with revisiting the past. As technological advances progressed, the human component of computer was discarded and machine/device took its place as evidenced by definition 2 in [1], and the definitions of [2] and [3]. Now the phrase computer only brings images of machines in varying sizes to mind.


“I haue read the truest computer of Times, and the best Arithmetician that euer breathed, and he reduceth thy dayes into a short number” [1]. This is the earliest use of the term computer according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  This quote can be found in Richard Braithwaite’s Yong Mans Gleanings published in 1613. In the context of this quote, a computer is an arithmetician, a person expertly skilled in calculation and counting. The year of this quote is important, as electricity was yet to be discovered which means there were no machines to do calculations.  

In the 1940’s the term computer had taken a step closer to today’s definition. A section from the New York Times published on Jan 1947 states “Two electronic computers that will handle complex arithmetical problems faster than earlier models were described yesterday at conference sessions of the winter meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers at 33 West Thirty-Ninth Street” [4, p.5]. The author of this article must make a distinction between an electronic computer and a human one since human computers were not rendered obsolete just yet. Electronic computers of the time were very expensive and very big, needing a team of people and machinery to transport them and entire rooms dedicated to their use. It’s important to note that these computers, while electronic, were analog. Digital computers were the next step but hadn’t made their debut yet.

From an encyclopedia published in 2005: “The term digital computer—or simply, computer—embraces calculators, computer workstations, control computers (controllers) for applications such as domestic appliances and industrial processes, data-processing systems, microcomputers, microcontrollers, multiprocessors, parallel computers, personal computers, network servers, and supercomputers.” [5, p. 668] By the turn the millennium, computers had drastically scaled down in size while simultaneously upscaling in terms of their abilities. They have expanded beyond only mathematical calculations, now becoming an umbrella term. Computers had transitioned from analog to digital and no longer spanned an entire room. They were present in homes, businesses, offices, etc. The association of the term computer with a machine is so strong, future generations may not even know a human once held that position unless they look back on history. 

Working Definition

The definition the term computer largely relies on the time period you’re discussing. If I was to define computer today it would sound something like this:  

Computer – A digital electronic device or machine capable of receiving, computing, processing, and outputting data in various forms. 


[1] “Computer,” in Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press, Jun. 2008, def. 1 & def. 2. [Online]. Available: https://www.oed.com

[2] “Computer,” in Concise Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 5th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005, p.519. [Online]. Available: https://go-gale-com.citytech.ezproxy.cuny.edu/ps/retrieve.do?resultListType=RELATED_DOCUMENT&searchType=BasicSearchForm&userGroupName=cuny_nytc&inPS=true&contentSegment=&prodId=GVRL&isETOC=true&docId=GALE|CX3475801389, Accessed: Oct 6, 2021.

[3] “Computer,” in A Dictionary of Computer Science, A. Butterfield, G. E. Ngondi, A. Kerr, 7th Edition., Oxford University Press, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199688975.001.0001/acref-9780199688975, Accessed: Oct 6, 2021.

[4] Author Unknown, “COMPUTER BEATS BRAIN,” New York Times, p.5, Jan 31, 1947. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/1947/01/31/archives/computers-beat-brain-new-electronic-devices-said-to-be-100000-times.html?searchResultPosition=3, Accessed: Oct 10, 2021.

[5] “Digital Computer,” in Concise Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 5th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005, p.668. [Online]. Available: https://go-gale-com.citytech.ezproxy.cuny.edu/ps/retrieve.do?resultListType=RELATED_DOCUMENT&searchType=BasicSearchForm&userGroupName=cuny_nytc&inPS=true&contentSegment=&prodId=GVRL&isETOC=true&docId=GALE|CX3475801781, Accessed: Oct 13, 2021.

500-Word Summary of Article About Smart Home And Smart Home Automation Using IoT

TO:       Prof. Ellis
FROM:     Jared Williams
DATE:     Oct. 6, 2021
SUBJECT:  500-Word Summary of Article About Smart Home and Home Automation Using IoT.

               The following is a 500-word summary of an article about the performance of wireless smart home automation using the Internet of Things (IoT). The authors discuss energy consumption around the world setting new records due to the increasing scope of technology. As energy consumption rises, new ways to lower it are being developed. Smart homes and smart home technology can reduce energy consumption and save people money.

               A principal feature of smart home technology is its simplicity, which is something the authors wanted to retain for their project. Agarwal et al. state, “We designed a home automation system using the concept of internet of things (IOT) enabling us to automate basic home functionalities like switching on/off Equipment lights, cooling systems, refrigerators and other home appliances that are operational in homes” [1, p. 630]. The authors discuss a Bluetooth based automation system and a GSM based automation system facilitated through a cell phone. The many ways a GSM based automation system can be used is briefly touched on.

               The authors wanted to remotely control their appliance through the use of a Wi-Fi connection. A html page was created in order to control their appliance for the test. Pseudocode for the project is provided to give a brief understanding of the goal. The authors use a device called an optocoupler, which – depending on their input – completes the circuit transmitting infrared light to a light-sensitive diode that powers on a lightbulb. The authors are using an Arduino device outfitted with Wi-fi capabilities and Bluetooth for their test.

               The steps to achieve the desired outcome are expanded upon from the previously stated pseudocode: The Arduino powers on and attempts to connect to Wi-Fi. If it can’t connect, the Arduino will continue to try until a connection is successful. Once connection is established, it will then await a command. When it receives an “on” or “off” command, the device sends a signal to the opto-coupler to complete the circuit or to break the current. The range of Bluetooth is very limited, which makes Wi-Fi based home automation more appealing as you can control appliances from wherever you have access to the internet. The Arduinos Wi-Fi module allowed for wireless control over the local network.

               The purpose of the project was to demonstrate the quality-of-life benefits from using smart home automation and show its potential in reducing power consumption. While smart homes can enhance our quality of life, one major concern is security. You must make sure all security and privacy precautions are taken when implementing the technology. Neglecting the security aspect of smart home technology can leave you vulnerable to attack and a potential invasion of privacy.


[1]        K. Agarwal, A. Agarwal, and G. Misra, “Review and Performance Analysis on Wireless Smart Home and Home Automation using IoT,” 2019 Third International conference on I-SMAC (IoT in Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud) (I-SMAC), 2019, pp. 629-633, doi: 10.1109/I-SMAC47947.2019.9032629.