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Even the stars die – La Stampa

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It is not my intention to talk about the life cycle of the stars which predicts the end of the life of a star. I would like to speak instead of what has been a star of technology that has accompanied humanity from audiovisual communication hitherto based on the Herz, to communication based on bit / s. So let’s talk about MPEG of which the book “Even the stars die” (in English) tells the life cycle. That MPEG was a star, I hope, there is no doubt.

Let’s go in order. Before the MPEG star there was no void but there was, one might say, primordial chaos, in the sense that combinations of industrial interests and political wills had ensured that communication between individuals was regulated by technological barriers that favored or they prevented communication with logic that had little, perhaps nothing, to do with the needs of the people who were the final recipients of communication systems.

I have always disliked the lack of “by design” interoperability of television and some telecommunication standards. In the mid-1980s when digital technologies were maturing, I thought the move to digital was the opportunity to ensure that the digital age was no longer another example of primeval chaos. An international standard would have benefited both users and industry: the former would be able to communicate without obstacles and the latter would be able to access a global market.

The book tells in some detail what happened in the first 10-15 years in which the first 3 standards that I like to call “heroic” were developed. MPEG-1 was heroic because MPEG managed to assert its existence and its value. MPEG-2 was heroic because an unknown group born, out of nowhere, out of the velvety theaters where representatives of the “strong powers” were used to deciding the destinies of the world simply dictated to the world how digital television should be. MPEG-4 was heroic because the IT industry joined the MPEG club populated by telecom, consumer electronics and telecom companies.

But, in the end, what has MPEG done in 30 years? Many things, too many even to put them all in a readable book, least of all in a blog.

Then the book chooses a dozen activities and briefly tells their story: This section includes some of the main areas of MPEG standardization: video encoding, audio encoding, multiview and 3D video encoding, fonts, genome compression, neural network compression, a overview of “data compression”, how video compression can be made “green”, system aspects in audiovisual techniques, the role of software and compliance testing in MPEG.

All of this is treated fairly superficially because the aim is not to explain the technology but the importance of standards.

It should be clear by now that MPEG was not populated by swampy delegates. MPEG, on the other hand, was a group that was simply born out of the logic of chaos because it was based on a rational logic. There was every reason why MPEG was suppressed, as it ultimately was, because MPEG in the global scenario was like the Mule in Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Everything had been programmed by Hari Seldon, but the Mule was not. So a few pages are devoted to talking about the MPEG exception, because a video frame can be an image, but an image cannot be a video frame; how MPEG effectively communicated its plans and results; what was the recipe for MPEG success; who made the decisions in MPEG; how MPEG work was organized; why standards have business models attached to them; what has been the impact of the MPEG standards; because the MPEG way of developing standards has been so different than others. Finally, the book inscribes the names of those who have most deserved in a Hall of fame.

MPEG was able to thrive because it was a channel that brought good technologies to standardize them benefiting three players: companies that produce products or services, end users who enjoy new product or service experiences, and technology providers who get royalties from companies. The progressive failure of MPEG was caused by the changing role of patents, the disappearance of visionary people who had supported MPEG in ISO, and the constitutive flaws of the organization hosting MPEG – ISO.

But this is not the end of the story. If the MPEG story didn’t have a happy ending, there was no reason why it didn’t draw on the MPEG experience to develop an area that, like digital media 30 years ago, has no standards and, like digital media for 30 years ago. years, it can be very successful thanks to standards. The international association Moving Picture, Audio and Data Coding by Artificial Intelligence (MPAI) has the mission to develop data coding standards using artificial intelligence. In less than 9 months MPAI has completed the functional requirements, commercial requirements and technology demand phases and is now developing four standards in different technology areas and will release its first standards within a few months.

The book also has two annexes: the first provides a complete list of the MPEG subgroups and their presidents, and the 130 meetings held. The second provides an overview of all 22 standards and most 201 specifications developed.

MPEG has become a supernova whose fame continues to illuminate the media landscape, but another star has been born.

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