Commemorating Jacob Ziv
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 27 March 2023

The Israeli Computer Scientist Jacob Ziv, co-inventor of the lossless file compression methods that were and still are relied on for storing huge amounts of data in the smallest possible number of bits, has died at the age of 91.

Born in Tiberias, Palestine (now Israel) in 1931, Jacob Ziv began his engineering career in 1955 as senior research engineer in the scientific department of the Israel Ministry of Defense, where he conducted R&D in communication systems. He then moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT. After receiving his doctorate in 1962, he moved back to Israel and rejoined the Ministry of Defense as head of its communications division. After a brief return to the United States,1968-1970 working at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Ziv became a professor of electrical engineering at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. He served as dean of the EE faculty from 1974 to 1976 and vice president of the school’s academic affairs department from 1978 to 1982. Later he was  Herman Gross Professor of Electrical Engineering and then gained the status of  Technion Distinguished Professor.

Ziv is the Z in the LZ-77 and LZ-79 compression standards which are the basis of a wide range of compressed file types including ZIP, GIF/PNG and MP3 formats. The L stands for Abraham Lempel, who died last month, see Commemorating the Co-Creator of the L-Z Algorithm

ziv lemel

Ziv, on the left above, and Lempel's work on data compression was done at Technicon. Together, in 1977, they published "A Universal Algorithm for Sequential Data Compression" in the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory. The paper outlined LZ77, the first version of the Lempel-Ziv algorithm, which was followed up the next year with LZ78. As explained in the IProgrammer article Data Compression The Dictionary Waythe 1977 paper started the whole subject of dictionary compression but, although it was a very theoretical  paper, it is an elegantly simple technique. In 2004, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) named the algorithms a historic milestone in electrical and electronic engineering.

Paying tribute to their joint contribution to the ACM stated:

"the impact of Professors Lempel and Ziv’s work is so immense that current research in the field is still vibrant as it was decades ago, and every year we see more theoretical and practical researchers working on the expansion and development of the elegant idea that the two presented. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the compression technologies that emerged from the research of Lempel and Ziv have accelerated mobile computing and multimedia applications and made them economically viable." 

Ziv and Lempel gained many awards for their pioneering work in data compression including the 1995 Marconi Prize, the 1997 Paris Kanellakis Award and the 1998 Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation from the IEEE Information Theory Society.

In the 2008 Ziv was the recipient of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award, and in 2017 was awarded the EMET Prize, known as Israel’s Nobel Prize, in the exact sciences category. Most recently, and as we reported at the time, he was the recipient of the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor for his exceptional contributions.

Jacob Ziv

Jacob Ziv

November 27, 1931 - March 25, 2023

More Information

 Jacob Ziv (Wikipedia)

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Last Updated ( Monday, 27 March 2023 )