, Volume 191, Issue 7, pp 1469–1492 | Cite as

The instructional information processing account of digital computation

  • Nir FrescoEmail author
  • Marty J. Wolf


What is nontrivial digital computation? It is the processing of discrete data through discrete state transitions in accordance with finite instructional information. The motivation for our account is that many previous attempts to answer this question are inadequate, and also that this account accords with the common intuition that digital computation is a type of information processing. We use the notion of reachability in a graph to defend this characterization in memory-based systems and underscore the importance of instructional information for digital computation. We argue that our account evaluates positively against adequacy criteria for accounts of computation.


Digital computation Information processing Instructional information Turing machines Finite state automata Physical computation Computational taxonomy 



We thank Oron Shagrir and Luciano Floridi for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. We are grateful to the anonymous referees for their constructive critiques and suggestions that have significantly improved the paper. A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the 2012 CiE Turing Centenary Conference at Cambridge University, Cambridge, U.K. A significant part of this research was conducted while Nir Fresco was a visiting fellow at the School of Humanities & Languages, University of New South Wales, Australia. He gratefully acknowledges their support. The usual disclaimer applies: any remaining mistakes are the sole responsibility of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Engineering and Information SciencesUniversity of Wollongong (UoW)WollongongAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics and Computer Science Hagg-Sauer 368Bemidji State University #23BemidjiUSA

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