Limits of Computation   no comments

Posted at 12:14 am in Uncategorized

In the second post it was stated that theory of computer science draws great attention to the boundaries of algorithms, to the problems than can or cannot be solved with computational methods. This led me to search for an introductory book on the limits of computation, finding Computation and its Limits by Paul Coockshott (2010).
The book provides a clear explanation of what computation is in its second chapter, along with a succinct historical overview of computational machines (more developed in the third chapter). In this definition, the author raises the question of what is evolutionary and what is cultural when carrying out computing operations. It also illustrates with practical examples how, as humans, we are equipped with physical and mental features to perform certain tasks such as counting, adding, or creating aides for calculation. These two first chapters highlight the importance of mathematics as an underlying element of all sciences, therefore including social sciences, although not explicitly. And this is the core conception that can be extracted from this book in order to find out the epistemological processes of computer science: Complex systems can be broken down into simpler ones, and ultimately understood thanks to the simplicity of maths.
The fourth chapter introduces propositional logic, set theory, and predicate logic. Being familiar to their core concepts may be helpful to social scientists who intend maintain a fluid communication with computer scientists, as logic and set theory seems to be the foundations on which computer science is built.
Although the book is somewhat introductory, some solid background in maths and computer science is required in order to understand what is meant with the limits of computation. However, the reading was not in vain, as it made me come to the realisation that perhaps exploring the boundaries of computation for creating an ‘uncrackable’ voting scheme may be an exclusive task for computer scientists, and perhaps interdisciplinary discussions should take place from different starting points.

Written by Manuel Leon Urrutia on November 18th, 2012

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