Unlike analog voltage or current signals, digital signals do not vary smoothly and continuously, but rather in steps or increments. Digital technology generates, stores and processes data as a string of binary digits, or "bits"--ones and zeroes--and its role in society since the early 1990s has been compared to that of the railroad during the Industrial Revolution.
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The history of modern digital technology can be traced back to the work on semiconductors--the materials of choice for computer chips--by Michael Faraday in the late nineteenth century. It was not until 1971, however, that IBM sowed the seeds for a revolution in personal computing with its PC 5150 business computer. By 2000, the semiconductor industry worldwide was worth $200 billion.
There has been something of a "digital revolution" since the late twentieth century. Nowadays, digital technology can be found not only in computers, but in a wide range of consumer electronic devices, including cell phones, digital cameras and camcorders and MP3 players.
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Digital technology also allows books and manuscripts to be scanned or transcribed into digital form and accessed and searched online or via an electronic device.