As long as I’m doing all of these basics posts, I thought it would be worth

explaining just what a Turing machine is. I frequently talk about things

being Turing equivalent, and about effective computing systems, and similar things, which all assume you have some clue of what a Turing machine is. And as a bonus, I’m also going to give you a nifty little piece of Haskell source code that’s a very basic Turing machine interpreter. (It’s for a future entry in the Haskell posts, and it’s not entirely finished, but it *does* work!)

The Turing machine is a very simple kind of theoretical computing device. In

fact, it’s almost downright trivial. But according to everything that we know and understand about computation, this trivial device is capable of *any* computation that can be performed by any other computing device.

The basic idea of the Turing machine is very simple. It’s a machine that runs on

top of a *tape*, which is made up of a long series of little cells, each of which has a single character written on it. The machine is a read/write head that moves over the tape, and which can store a little bit of information. Each step, the

machine looks at the symbol on the cell under the tape head, and based on what

it sees there, and whatever little bit of information it has stored, it decides what to do. The things that it can do are change the information it has store, write a new symbol onto the current tape cell, and move one cell left or right.

That’s really it. People who like to make computing sound impressive often have

very complicated explanations of it – but really, that’s all there is to it. The point of it was to be simple – and simple it certainly is. And yet, it can do

*anything* that’s computable.

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