Tag Archives: Baudot

The inventor of binary encoding

Francis Bacon may not have written Shakespeare’s plays, but he wrote the Novum Organum, a foundational work of scientific methodology. He did something else almost as impressive: He invented the binary encoding of text. In the early 17th century he wrote:

First let all the Letters of the Alphabet, by transposition, be resolved into two Letters onely; for the transposition of two Letters by five placeings will be sufficient for 32. Differences, much more for 24. which is the number of the Alphabet . The example of such an Alphabet is on this wise.

By “transposition” he meant the use of two letters, such as A and B, as units of an encoded message. They could just as well have been 1 and 0, or any other pair. Using five letters gives 25 or 32 possible encodings. AAAAA signifies A, AAAAB is B, AAABA is C, and so on. He said there were 24 letters in the alphabet because in his time I and J were considered the same letter, as were U and V. It’s a very short hop from this encoding to Baudot, and just an extension to seven letters (bits) to get ASCII.
Continue reading