Can I learn Digital?

Matt Jones jonesmat at ohsu.edu
Wed Jan 7 13:30:48 EST 1998


In article <68v59a$rjt$1 at perki.connect.com.au> Steve Black,
sblack at enternet.com.au writes:
>any research into the speed at which
>humans could process a digital signal that was interfaced to nerve cells via
>touch.

There are a couple of different questions in here. 

First, can you learn a binary code? Yes, you can. Early computer
programmers wrote their code in binary, and some hard core fanatics still
do it. Programmers call such instructions "machine language", so not only
can you learn it, but it could arguably substitute completely for
anything you could learn in any other language. However, we don't *like*
to think in binary, which is why most programming languages are "higher
level" (i.e., more like a spoken language). Also, I'd make the comment
that Morse code isn't binary. It's in base 3.

The other question has to do with the speed of processing. I don't know
the numbers, but it probably takes a person a few hundred milliseconds to
"detect" the presence of a signal (i.e., to become consciously aware that
the signal exists, ignoring the additional time required for "decoding"
or "understanding"). Decoding takes more time, because some sort of
calculations and translations have to be done by the brain in order to
convert the signal from the environmental code (i.e., light, frequency
modulated sound, temperature, whatever) into a human code (i.e., possibly
involving fitting the new information into some sort of picture of the
universe, a context that takes into account the past and present and
projects into the realm of possible actions in the future). This
translation is probably time consuming and complicated. How complicated
it is will probably depend on how foreign the code being translated is.
As I mentioned, binary code is probably pretty foreign to all of us.

Another comment: Braile is probably the closest natural language
equivalent to what you are proposing. In Braile, the reader reads a strip
of tiny bumps with his/her fingertips. Each letter is composed of six
slots arranged in a 2x3 matrix. (sideways it looks like this-> :::). So
one letter might be .::, another letter might be .:. or :.., etc.  Braile
is therefore a binary code in which each letter is encoded by 6 bits.
However, the reader never bothers with any binary translation, but
perceives each 6-bit set all at once as as a single letter.

Cheers,

Matt



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