A Native Language for Robots


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:

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.


  1. 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. ↩︎

  2. Life Model Decoy, for my fellow pedants. ↩︎