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Art Fraud Forensics

An engineer helps curators foil forgers

3 min read
Art Fraud Forensics

How many engineering jobs let you take a van Gogh off the wall and hold it in your hands? The kind C. Richard Johnson Jr. landed. He’s both an electrical engineering professor at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and an adjunct research fellow at the Van Gogh Museum, in Amsterdam. As such, Johnson says, he can ”speak the language of people on both sides.”

And when the two sides talk, they mainly talk about fraud and how to detect it. Two years ago, Johnson organized a conference at the museum that brought together researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Princeton, in the United States and Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Together, they processed high-resolution images with specially designed signal-processing algorithms to help sort fake van Goghs from real ones at the brushstroke level. It was the first time that image-processing teams at different universities could compare authentication approaches on the same paintings. Another workshop will follow next year at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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