On and off – true and false!

Illustrations Corinna Heumann / Text Susanne Gold

0 and 1

Most people know the binary system primarily in the context of computers and calculates in the decimal system. We have ten digits from 0 to 9 per digit. Larger numbers are represented by a new digit. The binary system works analogously.

However, as the Latin prefix “bi-” indicates, there are only two digits – or two states: 0 and 1, on and off, light and dark, true and false.

binärcode 2

This system is used to store data and perform calculations. Inside the computers everything runs with ones and zeros. So data is stored and calculations are made. Every time we receive information, it is actually a binary code. By stringing together these on/off states, much more complex information can be passed on.

Where does this system come from?

binärcode 3 jpgBinary codes were already used in antiquity to assign information. However, the binary system as we know it today is an innovation by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz at the end of the 17th century. At that time, the universal scholar (philosopher and mathematician) was looking for a method of converting linguistic concepts of logic, i.e. true and false, into a mathematical system, and in doing so he relied on the ones and zeros still used today.

A few decades earlier, Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, had already thought about how to represent a text by means of a binary code. A third scholar, George Boole, finally built up Boolean algebra on the basis of the binary system about a century and a half later: a system of logical operators that is still highly regarded in computer science today.

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