How does an integrated circuit perform computations? I know that it has transistors embedded into it, but how can a circuit of semiconductors be used for multiplication? — DF, Marina Del Rey, California
The transistors used in digital integrated circuits, including microprocessors, act primarily as electronically controlled switches. These transistor switches permit the electric charge on or electric current in one wire to control the electric charge on or current in another wire. In digital electronics, a wire’s charge or current state is used to represent a single binary digit—either a 1 or a 0. By combining transistors in modestly complicated arrangements, the states of several wires together can control the states of several other wires. This increased complexity allows for simple functions such as binary addition to be performed—for example, the charges on two wires can be used to control the charges on two other wires so that the charges on the second pair of wires represent the single binary sum of the two individual numbers represented by charges on the first pair of wires. More complicated adders can be assembled from more transistors and finally multipliers can be assembled from a collection of adders. Overall, it only takes a few arrangements of electrically controlled switches to form the primitive elements from which incredibly complicated digital processors can be built.