How computers see the world

There are a number of very common needs for a computer, including the need to store and view data.

Computers use electrical signals that are on or off, so they have to see everything as a series of binary numbers. This data is represented as a sequence of 1s and 0s (on and off). All data that we want a computer to process needs to be converted into this binary format.

A computer can only understand the world through binary representations. All objects in the physical world such as cars, trees, people and our environment are represented as binary.

What is binary?

Binary is a number system that only uses two digits: 1 and 0.All information that is processed by a computer is in the form of a sequence of 1s and 0s. Therefore, all data that we want a computer to process needs to be converted into binary.

Before a computer can understand any information, it must first be converted into binary. Audio, video, images or written text must be converted from their original formats into binary code.

The binary system is known as a ‘base 2’ system. This is because:

  • there are only two digits to select from (1 and 0)
  • when using the binary system, data is converted using the power of two.
  • Converting from binary to denary

    Understanding denary

    People use the denary (or decimal) number system in their day-to-day lives. This system has 10 digits that we can use: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

    The value of each place value is calculated by multiplying by 10 (ie by the power of 10). The first few place values look like this:

    ThousandsHundredsTensUnits (1000s) (100s) (10s) (1s)

    Working out the value of 1024

    Thousands (1000s)Hundreds (100s)Tens (10s)Units (1s) 1 0 2 4 1 × 1000 + 0 × 100 + 2 × 10 + 4 × 1

    Converting from binary to denary

    To convert a binary number to denary, start by writing out the binary place values. In denary, the place values are 1, 10, 100, 1000, etc – each place value is 10 times bigger than the last. In binary,


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