Digital - Historical Digital Systems

Historical Digital Systems

Even though digital signals are generally associated with the binary electronic digital systems used in modern electronics and computing, digital systems are actually ancient, and need not be binary or electronic.

  • Written text in books (due to the limited character set and the use of discrete symbols - the alphabet in most cases)
  • An abacus was created sometime between 1000 BC and 500 BC, it later become a form of calculation frequency, nowadays it can be used as a very advanced, yet basic digital calculator that uses beads on rows to represent numbers. Beads only have meaning in discrete up and down states, not in analog in-between states.
  • A beacon is perhaps the simplest non-electronic digital signal, with just two states (on and off). In particular, smoke signals are one of the oldest examples of a digital signal, where an analog "carrier" (smoke) is modulated with a blanket to generate a digital signal (puffs) that conveys information.
  • Morse code uses six digital states—dot, dash, intra-character gap (between each dot or dash), short gap (between each letter), medium gap (between words), and long gap (between sentences)—to send messages via a variety of potential carriers such as electricity or light, for example using an electrical telegraph or a flashing light.
  • The Braille system was the first binary format for character encoding, using a six-bit code rendered as dot patterns.
  • Flag semaphore uses rods or flags held in particular positions to send messages to the receiver watching them some distance away.
  • International maritime signal flags have distinctive markings that represent letters of the alphabet to allow ships to send messages to each other.
  • More recently invented, a modem modulates an analog "carrier" signal (such as sound) to encode binary electrical digital information, as a series of binary digital sound pulses. A slightly earlier, surprisingly reliable version of the same concept was to bundle a sequence of audio digital "signal" and "no signal" information (i.e. "sound" and "silence") on magnetic cassette tape for use with early home computers.

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