Paul Explores the "Interesting But Obscure" in "The Origins of Our Digital Universe"

4/7/2017 9:58:00 AM

In a Q&A, Scientific Conversion and Crypto-Museum founder Jon D. Paul previews his Saturday morning NAB BEITC session, The Origins of Our Digital Universe,which he characterizes as interesting but obscure. Fans of cryptology, technology and broadcast history are encouraged to attend the 11:35 a.m. event.  

 

Radio magazine: The NAB Show website summary of your presentation indicates that you will explain the path from early audio compression technology, to speech encryption, to modern compression algorithms. That sounds like a fairly dense 35 minutes. What key points do you hope attendees will take away from your presentation?

Jon Paul: We have 65 slides, packed with 20 years of research on this topic. The presentation includes music of the WWII era, rare images, and exclusive SIGSALY decoded speech.

 

We will discuss Fourier, 1807; the Jacquard Portrait, 1839; Homer Dudley in 1930s; and Claude Shannon in 1940s. Their work is the basis of our modern compressed media. Our audio and video compression were invented in those bygone eras by some very fascinating people.

Key points are that the invention of digital media is rooted in the history of cryptology, mathematics, speech synthesis and information theory.

 

Radio: Why is this subject of interest to broadcasters — or why should it be?

Paul: Our current technology is very fast moving. But experienced and novice engineers are seldom aware of the background or history that led to this marvelous Digital World. Or how far back this goes.

The  story of the inventors such as Shannon and Hedy Lamar are rarely discussed. I hope this little-known history, which spans two centuries, can teach us something new and spark the imagination of the audience, to inspire new innovations and to draw young students into the field.

For instance, all digital video employs flash conversion which was invented at Bell Laboratories in the early 1940s for SIGSALY.

 

Radio: You specialize in the connections between World War-era cipher machines (like SIGSALY and Enigma) and modern AV technology. What first sparked your interest in the subject, or made you aware of the relationship?

Paul: In the 1970s I was traveling extensively in Europe and eastern Europe and saw the Enigma code machine. I learned of the connections between the cracking of Enigma by the Polish mathematicians in 1932, and at Bletchley Park beginning in 1939, led to our modern computing. I met David Kahn (The Codebreakers) and Anthony Sale (founder of Bletchley Park Trust) and many others.

As  I learned, I strongly felt that this hidden story needed to be documented and propagated. I began to collect artifacts and to give presentations and papers, which were very well received.

 

Radio: Care to take a guess about the future of speech compression and encryption?

Paul: Both technologies will advance even more rapidly, as bandwidth and security are essential and precious resources and cost time and money. As  the use of media and the attacks of hackers grow more and more intense, we are forever in a struggle to reduce bandwidth and to improve security.

 

Radio: You hold the patent for the first digital microphone, registered in 1991, I believe. Has this influenced your research, or vice versa?

Paul: The connection between invention and preceding history is very strong.

My invention in 1989 was just at the beginning of high resolution oversampling ADCs, and proved to be surprising to the leaders in the industry. Years later it was used in digital mobile phones. The compression and A to D/D to A conversion of VOCODER and SIGSALY are the basis for this technology.

 

Radio: Just for fun, what was your take on “The Imitation Game,” the 2014 movie about Alan Turing in which Benedict Cumberbatch starred?

Paul: I was asked by Bletchley to assist on the first Enigma movie in 1989. I met the author of the book the Imitation Game was based on, about 15, 20 years ago. He was a fine Turing biographer, but closed to the Polish Enigma cracking that long preceded Alan Turing's work. His bias is evident in the film.

  

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