Every time you binge-watch a series on Netflix, or stream a music video on YouTube, or talk to your family on Skype, think to yourself: I have Dr. Marta Karczewicz to thank for this.
The Polish inventor has had such an overwhelming impact on how we live, work and play that it’s hard to do her work justice. Karczewicz’s hundreds of ground-breaking patents have enabled the compression of a video by a factor of 1,000 “without affecting the quality of the final image.”
In other words, she’s the reason devices as small as mobiles are able to download and play high quality videos within seconds.
“Every time a video is streamed on an online service or broadcast over a high-definition television signal, it is likely encoded using video standards that I helped develop,” she says in an interview with Qualcomm, the company at which she is Vice President of Technology.
“One of the most common use cases for my inventions is that they enable the quality of video livestreaming that impact general multimedia entertainment like Netflix or YouTube, but it also goes way beyond that.
“My inventions have helped enable 8K x 4K video resolutions at 120 frames per second, which is what allows users to use virtual and augmented reality applications on mobile devices.”
If it sounds like grandstanding, it very much isn’t: Dr Karczewicz was recently nominated as a finalist for the Lifetime Achievement category in European Patent Office’s European Inventor Award. Previous winners invented laser eye surgery; vaccines against whooping cough and meningitis; and the world’s first LCD flat panel display.
Her patents allow the global community to watch one billion hours of YouTube videos every single day. Back to back, that’s the equivalent of 114,155 years.
They also help doctors use teleconference technology to provide medical care from far away, which is set to become even more important as 5G is rolled out across the world.
Sadly, Dr Karczewicz just missed out on the EPO award. The winner? Spanish molecular genetics pioneer Margarita Salas Falgueras, who created a “faster, simpler and more reliable way” to do full genomic testing on DNA. Talk about competition.
A STEM-powered journey: Dr. Marta Karczewicz
In the Qualcomm interview, Dr Marta Karczewicz reveals information about her early years. She says that she was in the top 10 in Poland’s National Math Olympiad as a kid, then went on to study signal and image processing at Tampere University in Finland. It was there that she developed an interest in data compression.
She spent 10 years at Nokia, before becoming Vice President at Qualcomm in 2006 — a company she praises for supporting long-term, incremental research, and for helping her play a pivotal role in standardising video coding.
Karczewicz finishes the Qualcomm interview with a bit of advice for others who want to pursue a career as an inventor. “Keep in mind that sometimes it is good to be naïve,” she says. “When I was getting started over 20 years ago, I would look at the technology in front of me and think that in this relatively new field of video compression, there must be better ways of doing things.
“I felt compelled to fix it and worked hard to make sure that my inventions were the best they could be.
“Being curious and willing to learn are essential when you want to be an inventor.”