BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards

Information and communication technologies 1st Edition (2008)


Jacob Ziv

Galardonado Tecnologías de la Información y Comunicación 2008

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Information and Communication Technologies category goes to Jacob Ziv for his ground-breaking innovations in data compression, which have had a deep and lasting theoretical and practical impact. His discoveries have facilitated the compression of the data, text, image and video files used in all personal computers.

Jacob Ziv (Tiberias, modern-day Israel, 1931) is author, together with Abraham Lempel, of the LZ algorithm, with the power to identify the most frequent redundancies in the language. Each time it comes across one, it replaces it by a reference to the zone where the first such pattern begins. This algorithm enables the compression of all kinds of information so it occupies less space and can be transmitted at ever greater speeds. In a text, for instance, the algorithm can convert a whole word into a single unit, saving storage space without any loss of meaningful information.

This principle is what has enabled the creation the creation of hugely popular compression standards such as mp3 (for sound), gif or png (image) or pdf (text). Also, Ziv’s ideas have been instrumental in improving the capacity of hard drives and optimizing fax retransmission. Professor Ziv has authored numerous works of Information Theory addressing aspects of “lossy” compression. These have proved of major influence in video compression as well as finding applications in DVD and high-definition television technologies.

Applications ubiquitous in daily life

The jury cites “the deep and lasting impact of Ziv’s work on both the theory and practice of communications and information technology”. It also reserves mention for the applied side of his activities: “Ubiquitous in everyday life, Ziv’s contributions enable efficient storage and transmission of text, data, images, and video. Computer memories, modems, software distribution, and file compression techniques all rely on Ziv’s ideas and inventions. His seminal contributions to Information Theory have inspired generations of researchers and practitioners alike”.

On receiving the news, Jacob Ziv declared himself “deeply honored” by the award. “I am especially delighted that, in the midst of a world economic crisis, the foundation of a financial institution like BBVA has opted to uphold the importance of the scientific spirit.”

Jacob Ziv considers himself “fortunate” to form part of a “relatively new branch of science, Information Theory, which has laid the foundations for modern communication technologies”.

Jacob Ziv has worked in the Scientific Department of the Israeli Defense Ministry as head of the Communications Division, and at Bell Laboratories. Since 1970 he has held a full professorship at the Technion Institute of Haifa (Israel).


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