The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Every gamer’s ultimate fantasy is to be immersed in the world of the game the way the characters in the Star Trek films experienced the holodeck. While there’s still a few years and a few technical breakthroughs between us and holographic images with whom we can have all-too-real battles, Microsoft has advanced the state of the art to the point where you are now the controller. At the E3 Expo last June, Microsoft unveiled an Xbox peripheral called Project Natal.

Natal contains a suite of sensors that track your every move, recognize your face (and figure out whether you’re wearing a smile or frown), and respond to your commands in natural language. The box, about the size of a home video projector, contains a camera that captures your image. Proprietary software converts the image to a constellation of points in a three-dimensional matrix that provides a relief map of the surface of your body. The software then interprets the ”point cloud,” adding color and texture that makes the image presented on screen truly you.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

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