Minds and Machines

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 17–38 | Cite as

The Interactive Nature of Computing: Refuting the Strong Church–Turing Thesis

  • Dina GoldinEmail author
  • Peter Wegner


The classical view of computing positions computation as a closed-box transformation of inputs (rational numbers or finite strings) to outputs. According to the interactive view of computing, computation is an ongoing interactive process rather than a function-based transformation of an input to an output. Specifically, communication with the outside world happens during the computation, not before or after it. This approach radically changes our understanding of what is computation and how it is modeled. The acceptance of interaction as a new paradigm is hindered by the Strong Church–Turing Thesis (SCT), the widespread belief that Turing Machines (TMs) capture all computation, so models of computation more expressive than TMs are impossible. In this paper, we show that SCT reinterprets the original Church–Turing Thesis (CTT) in a way that Turing never intended; its commonly assumed equivalence to the original is a myth. We identify and analyze the historical reasons for the widespread belief in SCT. Only by accepting that it is false can we begin to adopt interaction as an alternative paradigm of computation. We present Persistent Turing Machines (PTMs), that extend TMs to capture sequential interaction. PTMs allow us to formulate the Sequential Interaction Thesis, going beyond the expressiveness of TMs and of the CTT. The paradigm shift to interaction provides an alternative understanding of the nature of computing that better reflects the services provided by today’s computing technology.


Interactive computation Church–Turing Thesis Turing Machines Strong Church–Turing Thesis Persistent Turing Machines Sequential Interaction Thesis Computation expressiveness Paradigm shift 



We sincerely thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments, which were very helpful in revising this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Computer Science DepartmentBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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