If you are into computers or you are studying electronics, binary is definitely a format that you’re already familiar with. Represented by 0s and 1s, the binary number acts as the foundation of computers and computational operations. But why do computers use binary? Aren’t there other number formats that are more detailed and easier to read?
While the use of binary in computing and electronics is very common, there are still misconceptions and questions about the number format, including how and why it is used by computers. In this article, we are going to dig deep into those misconceptions and learn more about the 8 things you need to know about binary. Let’s get started, shall we?
1. The Electrical Current
To answer the question, “why do computers use binary?” we have to take a look at the history of computers and how they were invented. Computers that we know today didn’t start life as a group of microchips. They were mechanical switches organized in such a way to allow for computational tasks to be performed.
Even the following generations of computers used switches, but on a smaller scale. In electronics, the basic form of switches only has two positions, on and off. That’s where the use of 0s and 1s, the binary number format, originated from. 1 represents on, 0 represents off. The switches allow currents to flow in such a way that it can be programmed.
Base 2 binary is used in computers today for two reasons. The first one is, well, tradition. Binary has been used as the low-level language of computers for so long that it is extremely difficult to switch to a new approach. Besides, Base 2 allows for even the most complex computing tasks to be simplified to a certain degree.
2. The Ternary Logic
Continuing with why computers today still use binary, attempts to replace the system has been made in the past. Many came close, with Ternary logic being the closest one of them all. We’re not talking about a computing model designed in recent years either. Ternary logic was introduced and developed as an alternative to binary in the 1950s.
That said, the system never got past the 50s. Ternary computers use multiple voltage levels to perform calculations, and it did support more complex calculations. That added complexity was not an advantage of the system, because binary ended up being simpler and easier for a computer to process. Boolean logic, for instance, can be mapped to a binary system straight away.
That actually brings us to the third interesting thing about the use of binary in computers today, and that is….
3. Four Rules
Binary is a dependable low-level language because it requires only four rules. In any scenario, there are only four possible outcomes of a binary calculation. The calculations can be very complex, the logic may vary, but the four rules can still be used to compute the results of those calculations in an efficient way.
Let’s not forget that inside modern computer chips and electronic hardware there are circuits that need to work properly. When mapping Boolean logic, binary requires fewer flows to be established compared to other systems like the Ternary. For comparison, a binary system has 16 possible operators. A ternary system requires 19,683 operators.
To add to the simplicity of binary, there are no additional variables to measure or monitor. Switches only identify their On and Off configurations, regardless of the voltage flowing through them. This too is among the reasons why binary is still used by modern computers; it is incredibly scalable. Research programs that push the use of binary switches to a molecular level promise the next big thing.
While computers understand binary numbers natively, it is not always easy to read binary in its original format. This is where doing a conversion becomes essential. Binary can be converted into various other number and string formats, plus strings and numbers can be converted into binary. For computers, reading binary is easier.
You can, for instance, learn how to convert binary to decimal using a binary to decimal converter. Tools like Convertbinary.com make this type of conversion a breeze. In the case of Convertbinary.com, you can also learn about how to do the conversion manually. Since it is a Base 2 system, you use the power of 2 to make the conversion.
Conversions to Octet is another interesting thing to try. A group of 8 bits is known as an Octet or a Byte, and each bit is a binary digit. To put it in simple terms, a byte that represents the letter A has 8 bits, or 8 binary digits. Those digits are 01100001. The letter B is represented by 01100010. A small change in a bit is all it takes to generate a different ASCII character.
5. A Coded Message
Since we now know how binary constructs bytes and used to allow computers to understand (and process) numbers and strings, we can now talk about how binary can be used for creative purposes. Yes, I’m talking about using binary to send messages. The message needs to be converted to binary and then converted back to strings, but it’s a lot of fun.
Try using ConvertBinary.com’s Binary to Text translator to understand this message:
01001001 00100111 01101101 00100000 01101100 01100101 01100001 01110010 01101110 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01000001 01100010 01101111 01110101 01110100 00100000 01000010 01001001 01101110 01100001 01110010 01111001
The same tool can also be used to convert text to binary, so the next time you need to send a hidden message you can do it with binary numbers. There are also plenty of internet easter eggs, online threads, and hidden messages that are using this encryption-decryption method. Even games and movies are using binary to some degree.
6. It’s Part of Our Culture
That’s one of the most interesting things about binary. While not everyone understands how the number format works and how it can be used in a technical environment, binary is something that more people are familiar with. We’ve seen binary being used in video games and movies as a way to hide easter eggs or as a part of the plotline.
In the movie Wanted, for example, the organization uses binary embedded into fabric to identify their targets. The coded message needs to be translated before a hit can be executed. Interstellar, another awesome movie of our generation, freely uses binary as a communication method; it’s how Coop leaves messages.
Binary is a part of our culture. Since the day it was used to construct the first computer, the number format has been the foundation of modern civilization too. We just aren’t always aware of its existence and the way it makes things – from a simple calculation on your desk calculator to messages sent over the air – possible.
7. Braille and Other Languages
A binary code is adopted into various languages used today, including braille. Many people don’t know that braille is also based on binary. There are three dots in each column, and six columns in total. The combination of dots represents a particular character. Since dots can be raised and not raised, the language is basically a binary.
The same is true with Bagua, an ancient language used in Feng Shui. The language uses lines arranged in 64 gua (a hexagram), but there are only two states available: broken and unbroken. Broken and unbroken lines are then arranged in such a way that they represent different characters.
It is also worth noting that coding systems like ASCII and binary-coded decimals are all based on binary. The defining factor that separates these coding systems are the grouping (i.e. 7-bit vs 8-bit) and the values are encoded. You can see how ASCII characters can be converted into binary easily, can’t you? The foundation is exactly the same.
8. Older Than You Think
Is it possible that binary number – and the binary system – is used in languages like braille? Aren’t those languages older than computers? The answer to these questions is YES, and there is a good reason for that: binary is older than you think. Binary as a system can be traced all the way back to the 1560s.
It was Thomas Harriot, an English mathematician, who discovered the binary system. Francis Bacon, another familiar name in the history of computing, uses binary (As and Bs) in the development of the biliteral steganography method. That was in the 1605s. if you go all the way back to the first recorded use of the binary system, we’re looking at ancient Egyptians and the way they performed certain calculations (multiplication of two numbers) using binary.
Yes, the binary system is older than you think. Cyphers made in the 1800s as well as the entire electro-mechanical binary computer that catapulted Alan Turing’s name in 1937 were all based on past use cases of the binary system for performing various calculations. The next time you see 0s and 1s while browsing the internet, remember that you are living in a world of binary.