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A Polish invention from the JU revolutionises the digital world

A Polish invention from the JU revolutionises the digital world

Few people realise that the Polish invention developed at the Jagiellonian University known as the ANS coding or coding from the JU has become an essential part of the foundations of modern digital world. Thanks to the files compression method proposed by Dr Jarosław Duda from the JU Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, data can be transferred 30 times faster than before. What does this invention mean for the world and what are its possible implications?

Every day humans produce an unimaginable amount of data, estimated at more than 2.5 nonillion bytes. It is approximated that every second an average human being generates 1.7 megabytes of information. Such a gigantic amount of data must find smart ways to move along electronic routes. This is possible thanks to compression, which, to put it simply, reduces the data, making them much easier to transfer.

How does compression work? The data, represented by symbols have to be converted into the “lightest” units, that is, sequences of ones and zeros or, in other words, bits. It’s them which enter into circulation, carrying data in a binary form (01001010111...). This process can be compared to a train with a certain number of zeros and ones in each carriage, entering a tunnel in the form of an optical fibre cable - simple and brilliant.

Binary carriages

Along with the growing number of created data, new compression methods, based on fractional bits instead of whole bits, have been developed (the arithmetic coding). This enabled the reduction of many of the “binary carriages”, as they included only small fragments of ones and zeros. The new “trains”, although slower, became much shorter, so they could move through the optical fibre cables in much greater numbers.

Yet, in the following years the amount of processed and produced information became larger and larger. The trains started to become too slow, which signalled the need for new, more effective, coding methods. This is when an innovative solution came to the rescue. The advantages of both its predecessors – speed and compression ratio - could now be combined, resulting in the creation of new trains, which were not only short, but also lighting fast – even 30 times faster than the older models.

Currently almost all computers and smartphones in the world are using this new compression method, known as the “ANS coding” (abbreviated from the Asymmetric Numeral Systems) or “coding from the JU”, as it was proposed by Dr Jarosław Duda from the Jagiellonian University. This invention has revolutionised the digital world.

New image quality

The coding from the JU has also been applied in the forthcoming graphic files compression standard – JPEG XL. Soon (probably by the end of 2020) all digital photographs will be convertible to this new format, which will result in an even threefold reduction of the size of graphic files without the loss of their quality. It will also significantly accelerate their transfer, improve the quality of photos on social media platforms, speed up the loading of webpages, reduce energy use, and  facilitate data storage and transfer.
The introduction of the Polish coding method has already had a major technological impact. Soon it will further contribute to making life in a more and more digitalised world easier.

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The Polish ANS coding is most notably used in:

  • Facebook Zstandard (zstd) – replaces ZIP files, is several times faster, and allows better compression; currenty used by Linux and dozens of companies;
  • Apple LZFSE – the default compressor for Apple equipment (iPhone, Mac, iWatch) since 2016;
  • CRAM – a basic DNA compressor;
  • Google Draco – 3D data compressor, used by Pixar and other comapnies;
  • The forthcoming JPEG XL image compressor standard, mainly introduced by Google:

-      even threefold reduction of the size of graphic files,
-      reduction of the size of old JPG files (such as photos) by about 20 percent, without compromising their quality,
-      lossless compression – replacement of PNG, TIFF, and other files,
-      supports animation (replaces GIF files), transparency, and HDR (more colours),
-      progressive decoding, one file for different resolutions.

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