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I'm looking for one or more words that generalize over both 'input' and 'output'. If I had to convey this in a phrase, I would say "values that cross a system boundary".

For context, I'm looking for a clear word for a computer program I'm writing. I have a "black box" (e.g. an algorithm or a computational model). It has inputs and outputs. I need to find a good name for a programmatic construct that includes both the inputs and outputs.

Here is an example sentence: "The ____(plural noun)____ to the car efficiency algorithm are: engine cylinder count, engine displacement, vehicle weight, and vehicle miles per gallon".

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    Inputs + outputs = interfaces. – Hot Licks Oct 23 '16 at 20:37
  • @HotLicks Thank you. A small point, though: in context, I would say a black box has one interface consisting of the inputs and outputs. – David J. Oct 23 '16 at 20:56
  • Depends on your point of view. – Hot Licks Oct 23 '16 at 20:56
  • @HotLicks Per en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interface_(computing), the singular 'interface' is more standard. Do you have another sense or context in which the plural is commonly accepted? Also, we would be using this site better if you supplied an answer (for "interface" or "interfaces"), below. Then these comments would not be attached to the question itself. – David J. Oct 23 '16 at 20:58
  • No one seems to have mentioned I/O. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Input/output – Phil Sweet Oct 24 '16 at 4:38
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You should check parameters. Though the word parameter is more often used in the context of input, there can be output parameters too.

"The parameters to the car efficiency algorithm are: engine cylinder count, engine displacement, vehicle weight, and vehicle miles per gallon".

Wikipedia:

In computer programming, a parameter is a special kind of variable, used in a subroutine to refer to one of the pieces of data provided as input to the subroutine.

An output parameter, also known as an out parameter or return parameter, is a parameter used for output, rather than the more usual use for input.

  • I'm so used to thinking of parameters as inputs that I didn't think of the more general sense. Thanks. – David J. Oct 23 '16 at 20:56
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    Parameters works alright on the input side, but not so well on the output side. For example, algorithms and computational models often produce results based on the input parameters, but in my experience, one does not generally refer to these results (outputs) as parameters. – Richard Kayser Oct 23 '16 at 21:19
  • I think this is the correct answer. Normally however, rather than mentioning out-parameters, or even in/out parameters, it is better to simply define a result (separate from parameters) if an output defined. – k1eran Oct 23 '16 at 23:32
  • I made an admittedly subjective call and selected "parameter" as best for my example; "variable" is very close too. – David J. Oct 23 '16 at 23:55
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Good question. Perhaps flow or stream, as in information flow or information stream?

A flow or stream could be into or out of a "black box" (e.g., algorithm, computational model, subroutine).

From Dictionary.com:

flow: an act of flowing / movement in or as if in a stream / something that flows; stream.

stream: a continuous flow or succession of anything

Your example:

"The (information) flows for the car efficiency algorithm are engine cylinder count, engine displacement, vehicle weight, and vehicle miles per gallon".

"The (information) streams for the car efficiency algorithm are engine cylinder count, engine displacement, vehicle weight, and vehicle miles per gallon".

  • Typically, the word 'stream' in computing carries a particular meaning -- meaning that I don't want to convey in this case. – David J. Oct 23 '16 at 23:32
  • @DavidJames I get it. How about flow? Information (parameters, the results of other calculations, etc.) flow into a given black box, and results flow out These could be the final results or serve as inputs into other boxes. BTW, the most obvious hypernym of inputs and outputs is puts. – Richard Kayser Oct 24 '16 at 0:05
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The term that comes to mind is variable.

WhatIs defines variable as:

a value that can change, depending on conditions or on information passed to the program

Variables can change inside the program by reassigning a value. Parameters or arguments can be passed to variables.

In your example, the car has multiple variables: number of engine cylinders, engine displacement, vehicle weight, vehicle miles per gallon, etc. Irrespective of being a car these variables can change, and can effect one another.

For example a 2.0L 4 cylinder car will have lower mpg and mass when compared to 6.0L 8 cylinder car.

"The variables to the car efficiency algorithm are: engine cylinder count, engine displacement, vehicle weight, and vehicle miles per gallon."

  • This usage gels nicely with statistics jargon; e.g. dependent and independent variables, per statistics.laerd.com/statistical-guides/types-of-variable.php – David J. Oct 23 '16 at 23:46
  • Food for thought in mathematical contexts: "The quantities appearing in the equations we classify into variables and parameters. The distinction ... is not always clear cut ... it frequently depends on the context ... Usually a model is designed to explain the relationships that exist among quantities which can be measured independently in an experiment; these are the variables of the model. ... one frequently introduces "constants" which stand for inherent properties of nature ... These are the parameters." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parameter#Mathematical_models – David J. Oct 23 '16 at 23:51
  • @DavidJames Parameters are a set of inputs which are taken into account to get an output. In your example you have 4 parameters you take into consideration.However these parameters consist of variables and constants. For example a parameter could be your tyre grip, the variable would be the amount of grip the tyre has. Alternatively, your parameters are usually defined, and you can compare the output by changing or varying one of your parameters. – 3kstc Oct 24 '16 at 0:42

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