Technology is advancing at a faster and faster rate, and the vast majority of it is propelled by computers. Being able to answer the question of how do computers work helps us to understand much of our current technology, and also gives us some idea of where things are headed. The following information will stick to the basics, and won’t be overly technical, but it will give you a good foundation of understanding.
There are computers in all kinds of devices. Everything from the remote control for your television to the stove in your kitchen, from the fuel injection in your car to the smartphone you have come to rely on. You may not be aware of it, but computers are integral to nearly every aspect of your daily life. There are the computers that you can see, and then there are the ones that are hidden, yet they play a vital role.
A computer is a device that is programmed to automatically carry out a particular task. The programming is either done by the manufacturer or by the end user. The end user can either program the computer by using a programming language, or through add-on programs which can be downloaded or installed. The computers that are embedded in things like household appliances and automobiles usually have very limited end user programmability. For example, a television remote is ready to go as soon as it comes out of the box, but you can often program it to run a few related accessories. A home computer, on the other hand, has some basic programming pre-installed, but the ability for the end user to program it allows it to suit the needs of the user.
Programming is only one part of the question of how do computers work, because the program needs to be accessed in some way. In other words, something needs to cause the program to be executed. In an automobile it can be turning on the ignition, while a home computer’s programs are usually accessed through a mouse and keyboard.
Here’s a quick rundown of what happens:
You input a command to the computer (changing the channel on your remote, typing an email, for example) and it gets sent to the processor. The processor determines what parts of the computer need to be activated to run the command, and those parts then carry out the appropriate action based on how they were programmed. You then see the expected end result (a different TV channel, an email message). All of this happens so fast that appears instant to a human observer.
Computers will vary in the number of commands they are designed to handle, in how big they are, in the amount of internal memory they have, in how fast they can process information, in how customizable they are, and in other areas as well. These things really only matter when you need a certain level of performance in a computer, or when you are looking to buy a personal computer of any kind. So, how do computers work? The answer is…so well that they can be found nearly everywhere.