Digital

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A digital system[1] is a data technology that uses discrete (discontinuous) values. By contrast, non-digital (or analog) systems use a continuous range of values to represent information. Although digital representations are discrete, the information represented can be either discrete, such as numbers, letters or icons, or continuous, such as sounds, images, and other measurements of continuous systems.

The word digital comes from the same source as the word digit and digitus (the Latin word for finger), as fingers are used for discrete counting. It is most commonly used in computing and electronics, especially where real-world information is converted to binary numeric form as in digital audio and digital photography.

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Digital noise

When data is transmitted, or indeed handled at all, a certain amount of noise enters into the signal. Noise can have several causes: data transmitted wirelessly, such as by radio, may be received inaccurately, suffer interference from other wireless sources, or pick up background noise from the rest of the universe. Microphones pick up both the intended signal as well as background noise without discriminating between signal and noise, so when audio is encoded digitally, it typically already includes noise.

Electric pulses transmitted via wires are typically attenuated by the resistance of the wire, and changed by its capacitance or inductance. Temperature variations can increase or reduce these effects. While digital transmissions are also degraded, slight variations do not matter since they are ignored when the signal is received. With an analog signal, variances cannot be distinguished from the signal and so provide a kind of distortion. In a digital signal, similar variances will not matter, as any signal close enough to a particular value will be interpreted as that value. Care must be taken to avoid noise and distortion when connecting digital and analog systems, but more when using analog systems.

Symbol to digital conversion

Since symbols (for example, alphanumeric characters) are not continuous, representing symbols digitally is rather simpler than conversion of continuous or analog information to digital. Instead of sampling and quantization as in analog-to-digital conversion, such techniques as polling and encoding are used.

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