Computer Hardware Theory: Why binary bits?

Since this isn't a research-level question (seeing as I am not in a graduate program) I decided to plop on over here from the other CS Q&A site.

Why do we use binary to encode information in bits?

I have some programming and hardware experience, and I know that 1 and 0 are the off and on of a lightbulb, etc. But modern lights also have a dimmer.
Why do we still use 1 and 0 when we could use frequency or percentage value of energy transferred to further compact a message in machine language?
Wouldn't it be quicker for a CPU or memory to calculate and process something if it gets the information quicker?

Basically, is it possible? And if so...Does this idea now have any copyright on it? :)

If it isn't, I would like to know why definitively if that could be explained. Thanks :)

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Just Google how MLC Flash works: More than one bit in a single memory cell. – Turbo J Mar 14 '12 at 19:00

The idea of having multiple levels instead of 0 and 1 has been tried.

eg Ternary computer which has three levels 0,1,-1.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ternary_computer

This similar question has a nice detailed answer.

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/764439/why-binary-and-not-ternary-computing

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For a more than two state (true/false) calculation you need a many-valued logic (check Fuzzylogic, e.g. on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_logic).

To the present day you can't cleanly separate three or more conditions (true/-/false) in mass productionable transistors due to technical restrictions, so computers have to work with a two-valued logic.

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Even if multivalent chips could be built, have fun coding anything that works in that environment. Also see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Psychology – conspiritech Mar 14 '12 at 12:39
In fact, there are computers with three states - since the 70th. – Steffen Mar 14 '12 at 14:23

Sounds to me like you are proposing an analog computer - one that acts on a range of values rather than on digital ones. I don't think one is inherently better than the other, but the use cases are different. Also, I would conjecture from the apparent success of digital computers that perhaps they are more adaptable and useful for generic problem solving than the analog variety.

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Your conjecture is flawed: The rotary Wankel engine is superior to the regular piston engine - it's just that the piston engine has enjoyed a hundred years of improvements. The analog computer (Wankel engine) might be superior today if it had enjoyed a similar amount of research and refinement. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 14 '12 at 14:44
Perhaps this is a VHS/BetaMax conversation, but my conjecture is at least arguable so I'll stand by it. – uSlackr Mar 14 '12 at 15:56
Yes...an analog computer, if I was reading the link right. Reading the link (of similar question) that daya posted...An Optical Multi-frequency computer. The main issues with this on the other page are that it wouldn't translate to binary. But then they are thinking of re-inventing the wheel with a new machine language. I was just thinking it could be acheeived using the same language structure just instead of 10 meaning two, 2 means two. 11 = 3. And it would increase but there is still a direct translation. You would just have to have another machine be a binary interpreter. – Justin Scorp Crouch Mar 14 '12 at 16:56