Is code the language that really runs the world?

Living in a digital world

In the last three decades, computers have changed our world beyond recognition. And underpinning that technological revolution has been the language that computers speak – the language of computer code.

Code does more than just power our emails or the latest apps on our smartphones. Even a simple shopping trip now relies on code to make it run smoothly.

As with any foreign language, code is pretty much incomprehensible to those of us who don't know it. But with a few basic concepts, we can understand more about how it runs so much of the world around us.

The language of computers

Like human languages, computer code has a structure, vocabulary and rules that make it work.

Giving objects a digital identity

Computers don’t talk about objects with words, the way we do. Instead, the basic building blocks of the language of computer code are just two numbers – zero and one.

Computers still need to be able to distinguish between millions of different objects and exchange information about them with each other.

Barcodes help bridge this gap – they give physical objects a digital identity.

In a standard barcode, white bars are read as 0s and black bars as 1s. A computer interprets the series of 0s and 1s as a ‘digital noun' that identifies an object, so it can find out information like stock details and cost. And digital nouns also allow computers to do far more complex things.

Secret language of devices

Computers use digital identities to recognise each other and to exchange information. Sending a series of secret messages to your car from its key fob reveals the ingenious code that locks the door.

Coding your way across the road

Code lets computers make decisions and control the world around us. Take traffic lights, which can respond to how many cars are on the road, or a pedestrian pressing a button at a crossing.

Click or tap the hand below to take control of a traffic system.

Powering human conversation with code

Today, computer code lets humans communicate with each other on a global scale. From the world wide web, search engines pull out the information we want in an instant. Slow the process down, and you can see how it happens – watch the video below.

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