They Have a Hit HBO Show. It Could Land Them the Nobel

It revolves around 'middle-out' compression
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2017 9:23 AM CDT
They Have a Hit HBO Show. It Could Land Them the Nobel
In this image released by HBO, from left, Kumail Nanjiani, seated, T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch, seated, Zach Woods and Martin Starr appear in a scene from the comedy, "Silicon Valley."   (John P. Johnson/HBO via AP)

It would certainly be a first: to create not just a hit HBO show, but to win a Nobel Prize in the process. It's apparently an actual possibility for Silicon Valley co-creator Mike Judge and showrunner Alec Berg. The detail comes from a New Yorker piece (as spotted by Business Insider) that delves into the lengths the show goes to in order to ensure it "nails Silicon Valley," as the New Yorker article's title states. The crux of the Nobel-Prize deal is the crux of the show: "middle-out" compression, the tech breakthrough that main character Richard Hendricks comes up with. It was born out of dramatic necessity, head consultant Jonathan Dotan tells the New Yorker: The first season's arc required that Hendricks have a tech "epiphany ... So we had to invent a breakthrough—something that would be huge, but realistic."

Dotan turned to Stanford engineer Tsachy Weissman, and after hours of discussion, Dotan shared with Judge and Berg a PowerPoint on the history of compression, in which files are made smaller. Very simply, this was first achieved top-down, and later bottom-up. Judge and Berg's response: Could a "middle-out" approach jack up the compression ability? Dotan took the question to Weissman, who ran with the idea. He and one of his grad students, Vinith Misra, have since published papers on the concept. Which leads to this key line from Dotan: "Clearly, middle-out compression doesn’t work as well as it does on the show. If it did, we'd all be trillionaires. But we do have an arrangement where, if Tsachy and Vinith ever perfect it, Mike and Alec will share the Nobel Prize with them." (More Nobel Prize stories.)

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