# What is a computer? How does it work?

The term "computer" originally referred not to machines, but to people. The term actually originated in the sixteenth century. A "computer" was a person who did computations (solved mathematical problems).

As increasingly complex mathematical calculations were needed for such applications as physics, ballistics, and fluid dynamics, mathematicians began to break down the process of solving problems into hundreds of individual smaller calculations that could be performed simultaneously by groups of human "computers," reducing the duration of time needed to produce a solution.

The computing machines invented during World War II functioned as logical extensions of this process, helping people solve complex mathematical problems, such as ballistics and encryption, by breaking them down into many small, easily solvable steps.

The modern computer is functionally identical to these early human and human-machine hybrid processes in that it solves complex problems by doing very simple operations on binary digits very quickly. A computer is simply a device that can store and operate on binary information according to a predetermined set of steps or "program."

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