Electric cars are quiet, deliver a tremendous burst of torque from a dead stop, and don’t spew a noxious trail of chemicals that exacerbate global warming—and you can bypass refueling stations because you’ve already ”fueled up” at home or at work.

So why don’t we have any? Because batteries that offer the energy storage and power density sufficient to handle a day’s driving (typically 130 km) don’t come cheap. And what if you decide to pack up the car and take your family to visit relatives who live, say, 600 km away? Where do you go to recharge during the trip? And how long would that pit stop take?

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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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