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Spectral Lines (August 2005)

Jack St. Clair Kilby(1923-2005): Engineering Monolith

4 min read

When integrated circuit pioneer Jack Kilby went to Stockholm to pick up his share of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics, he began his lecture with a story borrowed from Charles Townes, a fellow Nobel laureate and IEEE Medal of Honor winner. "It's like the beaver told the rabbit as they stared at the Hoover Dam: 'I didn't build it myself. But it's based on an idea of mine.'"

It was a glimpse into the mind and the heart of the man whose invention helped lay the foundation for today's US $179 billion chip industry and, as the Nobel Foundation noted, of all of information technology.

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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 of Jacob Ziv
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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