Distinction between software and hardware

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Distinction between software and hardware

Postby A_Seagull on August 13th, 2018, 5:58 pm 

Is there a clear dividing line between software and hardware? Or does the distinction become entirely blurred and stretched out on a close examination?

Clearly one uses software to program a computer which then carries out the instructions, but the processes of a computer operate entirely through the hardware.. semi-conductors, half-adders, RAM etc.

Any comments?
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby zetreque on August 13th, 2018, 8:36 pm 

I never thought it was something that was confusing or blurred.
Putting a definition on it for the first time I would say
Software is 1's and 0's either stored or moving electrons or photons.
Hardware is made of physical atoms that carries or stores that signal.

Any physical component of a computer is hardware.
Any block of code that runs processes on that hardware is software.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby mitchellmckain on August 14th, 2018, 12:14 am 

A_Seagull » August 13th, 2018, 4:58 pm wrote:Is there a clear dividing line between software and hardware? Or does the distinction become entirely blurred and stretched out on a close examination?

Clearly one uses software to program a computer which then carries out the instructions, but the processes of a computer operate entirely through the hardware.. semi-conductors, half-adders, RAM etc.

Any comments?


One certainly depends existentially upon the other. But then all living things on the planet are dependent on the Earth and the sun. Does this mean the distinction between living things and the Earth or the sun are blurred? No. The distinctions are clear because the distinctions do not require complete independence as if they were two entirely separate orders of existence. The similarity with the mind-body problem is enlightening. To be sure we have every reason to dispense with same the dualistic extreme in both relationships because physical monism is the more powerful explanatory tool. But this does not mean there is no distinction between the mind and body, between mind and brain, or between software and hardware.

One of the most telling distinctions is the different processes of development and inheritance (transmission), both in the software-hardware relationship and the mind-body relationship. Again like the ontological distinction, complete independence is not required. Developments in software have to reflect changes in hardware and hardware is often changed to accommodate the needs of software development. And yet you can have enormous changes in software without any change in hardware and visa versa.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby A_Seagull on August 14th, 2018, 6:07 am 

zetreque » August 14th, 2018, 12:36 pm wrote:Software is 1's and 0's either stored or moving electrons or photons.
.


Software is a moving electron? Are you sure?
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby A_Seagull on August 14th, 2018, 6:11 am 

mitchellmckain » August 14th, 2018, 4:14 pm wrote:One of the most telling distinctions is the different processes of development and inheritance (transmission), both in the software-hardware relationship and the mind-body relationship.

What are these different processes of development and inheritance in the software-hardware relationship?
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby TheVat on August 14th, 2018, 9:25 am 

https://homepage.cs.uri.edu/faculty/wol ... ding04.htm


Good intro to how computers work. I would also recommend Hofstadter's classic (though a bit dated) "Godel Escher Bach. "
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 14th, 2018, 10:35 am 

zetreque » August 14th, 2018, 9:36 am wrote:I never thought it was something that was confusing or blurred.
Putting a definition on it for the first time I would say
Software is 1's and 0's either stored or moving electrons or photons.
Hardware is made of physical atoms that carries or stores that signal.

Any physical component of a computer is hardware.
Any block of code that runs processes on that hardware is software.


With respect, I'd say it's anything but. And I think the OP raises a terrific question; one that I've often wondered about.

Now when you say, Zet, hardware is made of physical atoms (is there another kind of atom?), this seems to imply that software is not, and thus physicalism (i.e. all is physical) is wrong. If physicalism is right then everything (that exists, as if that needs saying) is made of atoms. And software is not.

One standard view (controversial, of course) in the philosophy of mind, where the mind is often claimed to be a computer, is that software is "multiply realizable", that is to say, it can be instantiated in an indefinite number of ways. A bit like money -- might be instantiated in paper, or plastic, or shells, or you name it.

These are just my initial, barely sketched, and probably hopelessly wrong thoughts. Looking forward to hearing other members' input.

Whatever else we say about software, it surely must have causal powers, otherwise it would affect nothing. Right? But clearly it does.

As I said, just some vague thoughts to get us moving.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby TheVat on August 14th, 2018, 12:28 pm 

Software consists of lines of code which instruct a computer, a machine composed of electrical logic gates, to perform certain actions. I think the key term is "code." More plainly, a set of abstract symbols. Just as the physical atoms of DNA are not inherently able to spontaneously form, say, house cats, the hardware of a computer is not innately able to do anything like information processing. The atoms in DNA must be organized into a string of symbols that can instruct a cell in making cellular components. Scale up a bit, and you can grow a new house cat. The hardware of a computer, all those chipfuls of transistor logic gates, have to received a coded signal that will initiate a computation of some kind. That string of symbols is what we call software.

In a human brain, an analogous process (sort of analogous - biological brains and computers differ in many ways) would be the neural firings, which are signals made of waves of depolarization that zip along an axon.

In a radio, there is a signal, another sort of code, which is picked up by the antenna and then the hardware of the radio converts that code, i.e. translates it, into vibrations of a speaker cone that will produce sound waves.

In the case of software, the causal powers that Reg speaks of, are part of a causal chain that starts with a human programmer who can translate ordinary language instructions, say, "Compute the value of pi as a string of numbers and keep going until you are asked to quit," into a code of some kind that we call software instructions. Those, in turn, are translated by a compiler into those infamous 0s and 1s that comprise "machine language."

Is this helpful?
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby someguy1 on August 14th, 2018, 2:11 pm 

It's the difference between recipes and kitchens.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby zetreque on August 14th, 2018, 2:52 pm 

Reg_Prescott » Tue Aug 14, 2018 7:35 am wrote:Now when you say, Zet, hardware is made of physical atoms (is there another kind of atom?), this seems to imply that software is not, and thus physicalism (i.e. all is physical) is wrong. If physicalism is right then everything (that exists, as if that needs saying) is made of atoms. And software is not.


A_Seagull » Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:07 am wrote:
zetreque » August 14th, 2018, 12:36 pm wrote:Software is 1's and 0's either stored or moving electrons or photons.
.


Software is a moving electron? Are you sure?


The question is posted in the computers section rather than the philosophy section. I was attempting to put a definition on software and hardware similar to ones you can look up in the dictionary. When using these words in the computer world assembling a computer for someone, it's fairly straight forward. You build a computer out of hardware, then you install software on it to do functions.
You have a signal that is stored or moving (often with electrons) and you have the atoms that make up the medium which that signal/code is stored on or moving along.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby mitchellmckain on August 14th, 2018, 7:27 pm 

A_Seagull » August 14th, 2018, 5:11 am wrote:
mitchellmckain » August 14th, 2018, 4:14 pm wrote:One of the most telling distinctions is the different processes of development and inheritance (transmission), both in the software-hardware relationship and the mind-body relationship.

What are these different processes of development and inheritance in the software-hardware relationship?


I have written all kinds of software and had very little to do with any development of hardware. I mean I know enough electronics and how a computer works to explain them in rough terms, but I have actually designed any. This is because writing software doesn't require this. This is just one simple personal example how software and hardware development are two different things.

As for inheritance/transmission... you can run different software (including operating systems) and identical machines -- usually installed from a DVD or other information media. And the reverse is also true -- you can have the same software (including operating systems) running on two completely different machines/hardware.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby A_Seagull on August 15th, 2018, 12:39 am 

Braininvat » August 15th, 2018, 4:28 am wrote:Software consists of lines of code which instruct a computer, a machine composed of electrical logic gates, to perform certain actions. I think the key term is "code." More plainly, a set of abstract symbols. Just as the physical atoms of DNA are not inherently able to spontaneously form, say, house cats, the hardware of a computer is not innately able to do anything like information processing. The atoms in DNA must be organized into a string of symbols that can instruct a cell in making cellular components. Scale up a bit, and you can grow a new house cat. The hardware of a computer, all those chipfuls of transistor logic gates, have to received a coded signal that will initiate a computation of some kind. That string of symbols is what we call software.

In a human brain, an analogous process (sort of analogous - biological brains and computers differ in many ways) would be the neural firings, which are signals made of waves of depolarization that zip along an axon.

In a radio, there is a signal, another sort of code, which is picked up by the antenna and then the hardware of the radio converts that code, i.e. translates it, into vibrations of a speaker cone that will produce sound waves.

In the case of software, the causal powers that Reg speaks of, are part of a causal chain that starts with a human programmer who can translate ordinary language instructions, say, "Compute the value of pi as a string of numbers and keep going until you are asked to quit," into a code of some kind that we call software instructions. Those, in turn, are translated by a compiler into those infamous 0s and 1s that comprise "machine language."

Is this helpful?


Yes and I agree with you. The essential distinction is that one is in coded form while the other is not or at least one is interpreted as being in coded form while the other is not.

So for example, if one were to examine a music CD, one could either view it as a disc of plastic type material or if one had laser type eyes one could view it as a long series of 1's and 0's; the former is hardware and the latter is software.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 15th, 2018, 1:13 am 

A_Seagull » August 15th, 2018, 1:39 pm wrote:
So for example, if one were to examine a music CD, one could either view it as a disc of plastic type material or if one had laser type eyes one could view it as a long series of 1's and 0's; the former is hardware and the latter is software.


Hmm, pretty sure even with the best of eyes, or lasers, or microscopes, you're not gonna find any 1s and 0s on a CD.

This may be a little off topic, but one of John Searle's main gripes against the computational model of mind is that computation is not something that can be discovered; computation is something we assign.

And it can be assigned to anything.

Hey, look at that pen on the table. Its program is "stay there and do nothing".

Seems to be bug free too.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby TheVat on August 15th, 2018, 10:04 am 

Your pens don't spontaneously start dancing all around the desk? Bo ring. You don't live along the San Andreas fault, then.

A CD would be hardware, because it's a static piece of storage. The software would reside in the action of reading those tiny divots. An action, prescribed by a string of coded instructions. And yeah, we assign that procedure. In itself, the CD is just a coaster for a sweating beer glass.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby someguy1 on August 15th, 2018, 4:28 pm 

Braininvat » August 15th, 2018, 8:04 am wrote:Your pens don't spontaneously start dancing all around the desk? Bo ring. You don't live along the San Andreas fault, then.

A CD would be hardware, because it's a static piece of storage. The software would reside in the action of reading those tiny divots. An action, prescribed by a string of coded instructions. And yeah, we assign that procedure. In itself, the CD is just a coaster for a sweating beer glass.


Mr. Vat, You brought up an interesting point.

An algorithm is an abstract pattern of bits or instructions. The Euclidean algorithm to determine the greatest common divisor of two integers is an abstract idea that lives in Platonic abstract idea land, wherever that is. As an abstract object, it's independent of any of its representations, such as a program or a number theory book.

Hardware is hardware, that's pretty clear.

But what is an executing algorithm? When we execute the Euclidean algorithm on physical hardware, we are executing a pure abstract idea, but the execution itself is a physical process that inputs energy and outputs heat. (As a work colleague noted once, the only observable output of a cpu is heat).

So what is an executing algorithm? It's not pure software, because it consumes physical resources. But it's not hardware either. It's something in between.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby TheVat on August 15th, 2018, 4:55 pm 

Yesssss! Was hoping this would be pointed out. Even when a bit of code is just an idea in a programmers mind, it is consuming glucose and whatever amino acids are used in synthesis of acetylcholine and so on. There seems to be a physical energy ledger for any kind of algorithm. For any bit of data. For a 0. And, in the PC, we need a clock. We need to tell bits of software when and where. Anything we can point to has the potential to be drawn into a physical reduction.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby someguy1 on August 15th, 2018, 6:26 pm 

Braininvat » August 15th, 2018, 2:55 pm wrote:Yesssss! Was hoping this would be pointed out. Even when a bit of code is just an idea in a programmers mind, it is consuming glucose and whatever amino acids are used in synthesis of acetylcholine and so on. There seems to be a physical energy ledger for any kind of algorithm. For any bit of data. For a 0. And, in the PC, we need a clock. We need to tell bits of software when and where. Anything we can point to has the potential to be drawn into a physical reduction.


Ah we're dangerously close to philosophy now. Did the Euclidean algorithm exist before Euclid thought about it? How about the number 3?

If an algorithm has no existence outside the minds of humans, that's anti-Platonism. [Not that I disagree, just pointing this out]. You would have to say that 1 + 1 = 2 has no existence before there were humans on earth to think it. Tricky waters.

I prefer to think of an algorithm as having abstract existence, independent of any representation. And of course thinking of it is a representation in the brain. So my thesis is in trouble and now I'm confused.

Surely the physical process of thinking of an algorithm is not the same as the physical process of executing an algorithm. I can think of the algorithm, but I don't know the gcd of two large numbers till I execute it. So these are not the same thing.

So at some point either software is just as physical as hardware, or we don't believe 1 + 1 = 2 till someone thinks it. Two bad choices.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby A_Seagull on August 15th, 2018, 7:55 pm 

An abstract logical system (software) cannot generate any theorems or conclusions without the use of a logical processor such as a brain or computer (hardware).

The accuracy and reliability of those theorems or conclusions will depend upon how well and reliably the hardware can model or mimic the logic of the software.
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Re: Distinction between software and hardware

Postby mitchellmckain on August 16th, 2018, 2:10 am 

someguy1 » August 15th, 2018, 5:26 pm wrote:
Ah we're dangerously close to philosophy now. Did the Euclidean algorithm exist before Euclid thought about it? How about the number 3?

If an algorithm has no existence outside the minds of humans, that's anti-Platonism. [Not that I disagree, just pointing this out]. You would have to say that 1 + 1 = 2 has no existence before there were humans on earth to think it. Tricky waters.

I prefer to think of an algorithm as having abstract existence, independent of any representation. And of course thinking of it is a representation in the brain. So my thesis is in trouble and now I'm confused.

The abstraction of universals from particulars is an important human thinking process. But there is no reason to believe that universals actually exist apart from particulars, except as a tool in categorizing things (and as such, a particular of a different kind). In other words, I see in this a tendency which I have often seen in ancient Greek philosophy to confuse human thinking processes with reality itself. For example just because we categorize a set of objects as chairs doesn't mean there really is such a thing as "chair-ness." This is especially true now that we can imagine intelligent beings with a vastly different shape who thus might require a chair which would be difficult for us to recognize as such. The truth is that we make these largely arbitrary categorical boundaries by convention because we need them for communication, just as we need a law deciding which side of the street to drive upon. But clearly the arbitrary nature of such conventions should tell us to be wary of confusing them with reality by attaching too much significance to such boundaries or to the universals which they represent.

someguy1 » August 15th, 2018, 5:26 pm wrote:Surely the physical process of thinking of an algorithm is not the same as the physical process of executing an algorithm. I can think of the algorithm, but I don't know the gcd of two large numbers till I execute it. So these are not the same thing.

The difference between thought and meta-thought?

someguy1 » August 15th, 2018, 5:26 pm wrote:So at some point either software is just as physical as hardware, or we don't believe 1 + 1 = 2 till someone thinks it. Two bad choices.


Not necessarily. I am reminded of the sci-fi film "Lucy" in which the main character concludes that "1+1 has never equaled 2." Just because the idea is clear in your head and you can abstract it from the particular instances of thought you have about it, does not mean that everyone must think in the same way. It IS possible that other intelligent beings will not think that way.
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