Chapter 10: Processes of Perception and Analysis

Section 5: Data Compression

History [of data compression]

Morse code, invented in 1838 for use in telegraphy, is an early example of data compression based on using shorter codewords for letters such as "e" and "t" that are more common in English. Modern work on data compression began in the late 1940s with the development of information theory. In 1949 Claude Shannon and Robert Fano devised a systematic way to assign codewords based on probabilities of blocks. An optimal method for doing this was then found by David Huffman in 1951. Early implementations were typically done in hardware, with specific choices of codewords being made as compromises between compression and error correction. In the mid-1970s, the idea emerged of dynamically updating codewords for Huffman encoding, based on the actual data encountered. And in the late 1970s, with online storage of text files becoming common, software compression programs began to be developed, almost all based on adaptive Huffman coding. In 1977 Abraham Lempel and Jacob Ziv suggested the basic idea of pointer-based encoding. In the mid-1980s, following work by Terry Welch, the so-called LZW algorithm rapidly became the method of choice for most general-purpose compression systems. It was used in programs such as PKZIP, as well as in hardware devices such as modems. In the late 1980s, digital images became more common, and standards for compressing them emerged. In the early 1990s, lossy compression methods (to be discussed in the next section) also began to be widely used. Current image compression standards include: FAX CCITT 3 (run-length encoding, with codewords determined by Huffman coding from a definite distribution of run lengths); GIF (LZW); JPEG (lossy discrete cosine transform, then Huffman or arithmetic coding); BMP (run-length encoding, etc.); TIFF (FAX, JPEG, GIF, etc.). Typical compression ratios currently achieved for text are around 3:1, for line diagrams and text images around 3:1, and for photographic images around 2:1 lossless, and 20:1 lossy. (For sound compression see page 1080.)

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]