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In our modern society Electronic Digital Computer Systems, commonly referred to as computer systems or computers, are everywhere. We find them in offices, factories, hospitals, schools, stores, libraries, and now in many homes. Computers show up in sometimes unexpected places -- in your car, your television and your microwave, for example. We use computers to perform tasks in science, engineering, medicine, business, government, education, entertainment, and many other human endeavors. Computers are in demand wherever complex and/or high speed tasks are to be performed.
Computers have become indispensable tools of modern society. They work at high speed, are able to handle large amounts of data with great accuracy, and have the ability to carry out a specified sequence of operations, i.e. a program without human intervention and are able to change from one program to another on command.
Computer systems are general purpose information processing machines used to solve problems. Solving these problems may involve processing information (i.e., data) which represent numbers, words, pictures, sounds, and many other abstractions. Because we are talking about digital computers, the information to be processed must be represented as discrete values selected from a (possibly very large but finite) set of individual values. For example, integer numbers (the counting numbers) can be represented in a computer by giving a unique pattern to each integer up to the maximum number of patterns available to the particular machine. We will see how these patterns are defined in a later section of this Chapter. This mapping of an internal machine pattern to a meaning is refered to as a data type.
Given a representation of information, we would like to be able to perform operations on this data such as addition or comparison. The fundamental operations provided in a computer are very simple logical and arithmetic operations; however, these simple operations can be combined to perform more complex operations. For example, multiplication can be performed by doing repeated additions. The basic operations provided by a particular computer are called instructions and a well defined sequence of these instructions is called a program. It is the job of the programmer, then, to represent the information of the problem using the data types provided and to specify the sequence of operations which must be performed to solve the problem. As we will see in Section 1.2.3, because of the simple nature of the operations available, specifying the proper sequence of instructions to perform a task can be a very complex and tedious task. Fortunately for us, this task has been made simpler these days (using the computers themselves) through the use of high level programming languages. It is one of these languages, the C language that we will discuss in this text.