The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

iCandy: July 2010

IEEE Spectrum's monthly slideshow proves that an image is worth a thousand bytes

0 min read

Photo: Patrick Bernard/AFP/Getty Images
Suspicious about the provenance of a bottle of wine being sold by a dealer or restaurant? Snap a picture of the label on any bottle of Bordeaux on your smartphone and an app uses a special code printed on the label to pull up details about where the wine’s bee
The Conversation (0)

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
Vertical
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
Yellow

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.

Keep Reading ↓Show less