Lately, I’ve been re-watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, including seasons 1–5 for the second time and season 6 (and now, 7) for the first time.
In season 4, the characters contend with a dangerous magical book called the Darkhold.1 The Darkhold apparently has the ability to convey to the reader virtually any theoretical knowledge they could want, and to present that information in the reader’s native language. (It also corrupts the reader’s mind, turning formerly-good people paranoid and power-hungry. No pain, no gain, right?)
When the android2 Aida reads the Darkhold, we get a brief glimpse of what she sees: line after line of alternating ones and zeroes. My first thought was “Ha, that’s cute—what a neat detail!”
But then I wondered: would binary actually be the most sensible thing for an android to read off a printed page?
What follows is a somewhat disorganized, possibly ill-informed collection of thoughts on the subject:
Binary is terrible for information density. Where space is at a premium—a book, for example—it makes more sense to use a denser format, like maybe hexadecimal.
Then again, it is a magic book, so maybe space isn’t at a premium after all.
Maybe raw binary would allow Aida to dump the content directly into memory with no conversions, and therefore speed of comprehension outweighs any concerns about space.
Except she would still have to convert whatever video format her eyes process into actual binary first.
In which case, why not just show it in a human language instead, as she clearly understands at least one and it would have better information density than either binary or hexadecimal?
Hmm, maybe optical character recognition is easier with only two symbols, especially symbols that are so distinct from one another as 1 and 0.
Wait, isn’t this exactly why barcodes exist?
Okay, so maybe the Darkhold’s pages ought to have been filled with something that amounts to a giant QR code. But then there are questions as to standards, encoding, etc.
Realistically, though, there are lots of different ways to represent information in binary too.
For human readers, the “native” language still had to be learned at some point. We can probably assume that established data formats which Aida “learned” are analogous, and the Darkhold will select the one which allows for the most direct translation.
It seems like the Darkhold is capable of reading minds, and in one scene we see two people read the same page in two languages simultaneously. Maybe it communicates wholly telepathically, and the reader merely perceives this telepathy as though they were reading.
Is Aida’s circuitry brain-like enough for “conventional” telepathy?
Can the Darkhold speak Bluetooth/NFC?
In the end, I’m sitting here trying to apply my limited knowledge of modern-day technology to the operation of a magic book, possibly from another dimension, within the context of a TV show about superheroes. There probably is no perfect answer; certainly not one which could be parsed by a general audience of people who are not that interested in computers during a one-second sight gag. Printed binary makes about as much sense as anything else!
But hey, it was fun to think about it.
The Darkhold is a longstanding element of the Marvel comics universe, but I am only familiar personally with its appearance in S.H.I.E.L.D and that the is only context I will be discussing here. ↩︎
Life Model Decoy, for my fellow pedants. ↩︎