Magnets and Marbles by Kaplamino

Yet another metaphor for classical computation

…long sequence of causal links, chain reactions, domino effect, deliberate complexity, previous events setting up the conditions for the actions happening later…

Rube Goldberg machines, falling dominoes, Pitagora Suichi devices - somehow these are fascinating to watch. I had to do a bit of research (due to family entertainment needs) and not surprisingly there are lots of amazing contraptions documented all over the net. Watching through many videos of marbles rolling just into the right spot exactly at the right moment it felt oddly familiar. Then I figured why. This is how classical digital computation is performed.

We write code, which is eventually turned into a bitstring. Then, this bitstring, when loaded into the right part of the memory, generates an immense volume of bit flips. Certainly we use lots of pre-fabricated parts to initiate this dynamics. The wiring, the etchings on the silicon chips are already there before we start programming. Still, the show totally amazing, no macroscopic world physical machine can come close to what happens in the computer when we hit Enter to start a computation that finishes a couple of seconds later.

So, in a way, programming is just setting up these marvelous machines. Unfortunately, while computation is physical, it does not on the human scale. We have to imagine to `falling bits’ in the processor. The Game of Life might be something in the middle.

The metaphor breaks down at infinite loops. It would be quite a spectacle to see the dominoes somehow going back to the initial state and start again. Also, biological computation is quite different, not a single chain of causes. It’s more like dominoes falling everywhere at the same time.