In 2014, Matt Parker built a computer made entirely of dominoes. At first, you’d think that’s impossible. But by demonstrating the fundamental principles behind binary, the domino computer attempted to add the numbers 4 and 6 together in front of a crowd of hundreds. But what is binary?
What is Binary?
We use the decimal number system, which counts numbers by going up in 1s, 10s, then 100s. In comparison, computers use binary, which moves up in powers of 2: 1, 2, 4, 8 and so on. These digits are represented by 0s and 1s. For example, the number 12 in the regular number system is 12; made up of one 10 and two 1s. In binary, the number 12 is represented by 1100, or from the left, one 8, one 4, zero 2s and zero 1s.
Why do Computers use Binary?
If you break down a computer, you’ll see that it uses voltages in its processes. Voltages change constantly, meaning voltages can only be read as either on or off. This is the reason why computers use binary instead of the regular decimal number system. If a computer were to use the traditional decimal number system, it would have to assign a different level of voltage for each number, which would be very inefficient. Instead, the on and off stages of the voltages correspond to the 1s and 0s in binary.
This is also why the domino computer worked. These on and off cases for a computer translate to yes and no cases for dominoes. A yes case would mean the dominoes keep falling, and a no case would mean it would stop falling. These yes and no scenarios were built using “gates.” The gates would only allow the dominoes to continue falling if certain parameters were met. In the example below, for output D to occur, both A and B dominoes have to be knocked down together and at the same time.
Did it work?
To add together 4 and 6 in the event, the organizers first completed certain routes with extra dominoes. They also only knocked down specific paths based on the numbers 4 and 6. In the end, the domino computer did not yield the correct result because one of the dominoes hit another path, causing that path to unintentionally start.
All electronics use binary, from computers, phones and tablets, to even calculators and watches. Using just 10,00 dominoes, the domino computer showed the simple yes or no processes behind binary and ultimately behind modern computing.