Rebuilding a Piece of the First Digital Voice Scrambler

This 1943 analog-to-digital converter helped make an unbreakable code

5 min read
Photo: Jon D. Paul
Photo: Jon D. Paul

photo Photo: Jon D. Paul

In the years before World War II, German intelligence could decode band-scrambled U.S. radiotelephone conferences. After Pearl Harbor, an unbreakable speech scrambler was developed with top priority, and by 1943, it was deployed. Known as SIGSALY, the device pioneered many advances critical to modern digital media technologies, including spread-spectrum communications and the first use of pulse-code modulation (PCM) to transmit speech.

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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
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Photo: Rami Shlush
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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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