A Fictional Compression Metric Moves Into the Real World

The Weissman Score, a compression algorithm metric created for HBO's Silicon Valley, is making its way into the real world

The formula for the Weissman score
Image: Stanford School of Engineering

When the creators of the HBO TV series Silicon Valley decided that the show would hinge around a breakthrough compression algorithm, they had a problem.

It’s hard to convey to a lay audience that one compression algorithm is better than another—you could compress and decompress images, say, with some loss and look for glitches in the resulting image, but they are hard to spot. But metrics for compression algorithms that rate not only the amount of compression but the processing speed, are hard to find. So it asked the consultants it brought in to help develop the original algorithm—Stanford Professor Tsachy Weissman and then-PhD student Vinith Misra—to come up with a metric that could be used to score multiple algorithms and find a winner. (Misra recently graduated and will soon be working on IBM’s Watson project.)

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