• Carolina MIlanesi

Mathematics, Video Coding And A Woman’s Dedication

Today Qualcomm Technologies (Qualcomm) announced the completion of the Versatile Video Coding (VVC) standard for video compression. The completion of the standard was reached on July 6th and commercial deployments are expected in 2021, supporting 8K and immersive video. Standardization work started in April of 2018. VVC is the next-generation video compression standard to power the creation and consumption of rich digital media. Video compression is based on modeling the motion between different frames and modeling the correlation between the pixels within the same frame. VVC makes the video transmission more efficient while offering a 40% reduction in file size compared to the current standard, Hight Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), and while maintaining the same video quality. HEVC has been around since 2013 and enabled streaming, 4K support, 360-degree video and HDR. 


This all sounds very technical, I know, and not something I would usually write about. Still, looking behind the technology itself, there is both a social impact story and a diversity story that are worth highlighting. 


Our Reliance on Video 


You might not be into tech and video compression, but I am sure, like me, you appreciate good video quality whether you are streaming Netflix or having a meeting on your go-to video platform. The ability to have good quality video no matter where we are and what kind of connection we might have has become even more critical during this pandemic as we rely so much on video both for entertainment and productivity purposes. 


The quality of the video, however, it not the only aspect video compression is helping you with. As your video is compressed, so is the data that is used for you to enjoy that video. These savings can, in turn, translate into a saving in your cellular data costs or simply on the memory required by your phone to store the video. 


The role video will play going forward will continue to grow. Whether it is remote work, distance-learning, or telemedicine, the change we have seen over the past few months will have a long-term impact on businesses, schools and health services. The combination of further improvements in video technology and 5G connectivity will continue to push boundaries. 


Never Tell A Girl Math Is Not For Her


Qualcomm is an IP leader across many different technologies such as WiFi, 5G and video compression, to name a few. It is a lucrative business but also an ecosystem enabler. The process from a brilliant idea to standard ratification takes time and effort. 


Behind this particular idea, there is the brilliant mind of Dr. Marta Karczewicz, Vice President of Technology at Qualcomm, and what is almost a twenty-year journey. Dr. Karczewicz is a pioneer in video codec and holds over 400 worldwide patents to her name, 130 of which are protected by European Patents. In May 2019, she was nominated by the European Patent Office for the very prestigious European Inventor Award in the Lifetime Achievement category. 


Dr. Karczewicz’s journey started in Poland when in high school, she turned to mathematics because she found that she was very good at problem-solving. She was so good that she ranked in the top ten National Math Olympiads and was offered a scholarship by Nokia to attend Tampere University in Finland and study signal and image processing. During her degree, she developed an interest in data compression. She liked solving problems that required a large amount of data and pattern recognition, which, in essence, is precisely what video compression is. In 2006, Dr. Karczewicz became Vice President of Technology at Qualcomm, where she leads a team of about 25 people in multimedia R&D. She proudly says she worked on every building block that comprises video codecs. Video compression might seem like magic, but in reality, it is the use of mathematics to reduce the size of a large amount of data.


Considering the timing of standardization, it is clear to me that innovation requires an equal dose of vision and patience. It is also worth noting that when it comes to video compression, improvements have come at small increments rather than giant leaps. Dr. Karczewicz credits Qualcomm’s appreciation for long term technology bets for her success at the company as well as her prolific patent portfolio. The work around standardization is another aspect of the process Dr. Karczewicz highlights because of how enriching is the open exchange that happens across the standards bodies. Dr. Karczewicz believes that the protection of proprietary expertise has to be balanced with the innovation that can be born from an exchange of ideas. Qualcomm’s focus on promoting intellectual property has fostered such an exchange of ideas for years and will continue to do so for years to come in areas such as Artificial Intelligence and Automotive. 


The whole tech industry is focusing on diversity right now, but women in tech jobs are still hard to come by. Dr. Karczewicz believes that innovation comes when leadership teams encourage and foster entrepreneurship and her advice to women who want to be innovators is to remain curious and eager to learn. As far as what is coming next for video codec, Dr. Karczewicz will be satisfied when video will be able to render the world exactly as we perceive it so that our experience will be fully immersive. 


For Dr. Karczewicz enjoying a movie via streaming or a live broadcast is extremely hard as her trained eyes pick up on any artefact such as flickering that prevents a totally smooth experience. Still, next time you enjoy Netflix on your phone or computer, think that it’s all possible thanks to a girl from Poland who loved math and problem-solving. And if you have a daughter, a younger sister, a niece, share Marta’s story and tell them that the world is ready for more girls to get into STEM and build our future. 


This article was originally published on Forbes

Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.

©2019 by The Heart of Tech