Faster FFT means even more mobile marketing

Don’t be shocked, but this post actually does have something to do with the science of marketing.  A mathematical tool named for its speed just got thousands of times faster.  The blistering new version of the fast Fourier transform (FFT) should make compressing audio and video less of a drain on mobile devices.  The Fourier transform, which splits a signal into its individual pure frequencies, was devised over 200 years ago but only became practically useful after the development of the FFT, a short cut, 60 years ago.  Among other things, the FFT is used in compression algorithms that efficiently store audio and video.

According to Jacob Aron writing in New Scientist, computer scientist Dina Katabi and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (my current school) have developed a new FFT that is much, much faster.  Signals used in technologies such as Wi-Fi are designed to fully exploit all available frequencies, so they tend to be made up of a wide range of pure frequencies, which all contribute equally.  By contrast, images and music tend to be dominated by a small number of frequencies.  The team improved performance on boiling down these “sparse” signals.

They created a more efficient way to filter a sparse signal by dividing the range of frequencies into sets and identifying which sets contained important frequencies.  Then they pinpointed this frequency within each of these sets.  This can be done by subdividing the set repeatedly until only the important signal remains, but the researchers chose a technique normally used in wireless communications.  It exploits the fact that the most important frequency modulates the signal more than any of the other frequencies in the set.  Sampling the set rapidly at different times reveals this dominant frequency.  The method processes sparse signals up to 10,000 times faster than the old FFT, say the team.

So, what does this have to do with marketing?  Well, specifically, this could improve batter life on mobile devices.  “If the algorithm does fewer operations then it consumes less power,” Katabi says.  the work was presented at the Symposium on Discrete Algorithms in Kyoto, Japan, last week.  It certainly appears that more and more people expect video on their mobile devices (as evidenced by the number of QR codes that jump right to streaming video).  In order for us, as an industry, to maximize the marketing message via delivery, it becomes clear that we will have to work within the hardware framework set forth by manufacturers.

Quite simply, you can’t benefit from QR codes if a phone doesn’t have a camera.  Anything that helps extend battery life is good, because it reduces the decision-making process of consumers.  If people are worried about their battery life, then they may not scan the QR code simply because they don’t feel the cost (using up more battery life) outweighs the benefit (watching a video).  Our goal is always to make benefit greater than (perceived) cost.  One way is to make better videos (for example) and the other is to reduce the perception of that cost.  FFT helps reduce that cost – science meets marketing.  So THERE!

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