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Definition: computers are copy machines


A computer is mostly a digital copy machine. Computers calculate, compare and copy (see 3 C's), but unless they are used for scientific purposes or playing videos, they do more copying than anything else.

Every I/O Is a Copy
Every input and output is a copy. Reading the hard drive or solid state drive (SSD) means the data are read from storage and written to memory (RAM). That is copying. Saving data is a read from RAM and a write to storage. Another copy. Formatting data for the screen or printer is a copy of data residing in RAM to other bytes in RAM laid out the way we want to view the results.

Displaying and printing is reading the formatted data in RAM and writing to the peripheral device. Once again, a copy. Obtaining an input from the network is a read from RAM in a remote computer and a write to the RAM in this computer. A copy. Transmitting to another computer is a read from RAM in this computer and a write to the RAM in some other computer. More copying.

Digital Copies Are Perfect
When you get right down to it, the computer copies more than it does anything else. It is a digital copy machine, and what makes a computer different than previous machines is that it maintains perfect copies. In the days of analog VHS and Beta videotapes, a copy of a movie was not quite as perfect as the original, and each copy of the copy thereafter was degraded further. Digital copies are perfect every time because the computer deals only with 0s and 1s, and it is much easier to detect the difference between a 0 and a 1 and maintain that data perfectly than it was to detect a constantly varying analog signal. See analog, binary and bit.

More Arranging Than Computing
In Spain and France, the word for computer is "organizer," and perhaps that is more descriptive of what a computer does than the word computer, which implies calculations. Of course, the computer adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides, and it does a lot of that blindingly fast. Rendering frames onto the screen, especially for video games, requires trillions of calculations every second. The computer also compares (if this, if that). Without comparing, it could make no decisions. However, video rendering aside, regular data processing means that copying is most of what computers routinely do. See 3 C's.