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Stephen Wolfram (born 29 August 1959 in Londonmarker) is a British physicist, software developer, mathematician, computer programmer, author and businessman, known for his work in theoretical particle physics, cosmology, cellular automata, complexity theory, computer algebra and the Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine.

Biography

Stephen Wolfram's parents were Jewish refugees who emigrated from Westphalia to Englandmarker in 1933. Wolfram's father, Hugo Wolfram, was a novelist (Into a Neutral Country), and his mother, Sybil Wolfram, was a professor of philosophy at the University of Oxfordmarker. He has a younger brother, Conrad Wolfram.

Wolfram was educated at Etonmarker. At the age of 15, he published an article on particle physics and entered Oxford Universitymarker (St John's Collegemarker) at age 17. He wrote a widely cited paper on heavy quark production at age 18.

Wolfram received his Ph.D. in particle physics from the California Institute of Technologymarker at age 20 and joined the faculty there. He became highly interested in cellular automata at age 21. Wolfram's work in particle physics, cosmology and computer science earned him one of the first MacArthur awards. His work with Geoffrey Fox on the theory of the strong interaction is still used today in experimental particle physics.

Wolfram founded the journal Complex Systems in 1987.

He is married to a mathematician and has four children.

Work

Symbolic Manipulation Program

Wolfram led the development of the computer algebra system SMP (Symbolic Manipulation Program: SMP was essentially Version Zero of Mathematica) in the Caltech physics department during 1979–1981, but a dispute with the administration over the intellectual property rights regarding SMP—patents, copyright, and faculty involvement in commercial ventures—eventually caused him to resign from Caltech. SMP was further developed and marketed commercially by Inference Corp. of Los Angeles during 1983–1988.

In 1981, Wolfram was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. In 1983, he left for the School of Natural Sciences of the Institute for Advanced Studymarker, where he studied cellular automata, mainly with computer simulations. In the middle 1980s Wolfram worked on simulations of physical processes (such as turbulent fluid flow) with cellular automata on the Connection Machine alongside Richard Feynman.

Mathematica

In 1986 Wolfram left the Institute for Advanced Studymarker for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaignmarker where he founded their Center for Complex Systems Research and started to develop the computer algebra system Mathematica, which was first released in 1988, when he left academia. In 1987 he co-founded a company called Wolfram Research which continues to develop and market the program. Stephen Wolfram is currently the majority shareholder.

A New Kind of Science

From 1992 to 2002, he worked on his controversial book A New Kind of Science, which presents an empirical study of very simple computational systems. Additionally, it argues that for fundamental reasons these types of systems, rather than traditional mathematics, are needed to model and understand complexity in nature. Wolfram's conclusion is that the universe is digital in its nature, and runs on fundamental laws which can be described as simple programs. He predicts a realization of this within the scientific communities will have a major and revolutionary influence on physics, chemistry and biology and the majority of the scientific areas in general, which is the reason for the book's title.

Since the release of the book in 2002, Wolfram has split his time between developing Mathematica and encouraging people to get involved with the subject matter of A New Kind of Science by giving talks, holding conferences, and starting a summer school devoted to the topic.

The simplest universal Turing machine

In A New Kind of Science, Wolfram claimed to have found the simplest known universal Turing machine, one with 2 states and 5 colours. Afterwards, Wolfram made an empirical investigation of 2,985,984 (i.e., 126) possible 2-state 3-colour Turing machines (because it was known that no machine with 2 states and 2 colours can be universal), and from among these candidates he selected one that he had an intuition might indeed be the simplest universal Turing machine.

A US $25,000 prize was announced, to be awarded to the first person or group who would provide a formal proof that that particular candidate is universal or that it is not. Alex Smith, a 20-year-old undergraduate from Birminghammarker, UK, claimed to have proven the universality of Wolfram's 2,3 Turing machine and was awarded the prize. Computer scientist Vaughan Pratt later claimed to have found an error in the proof's reasoning. Wolfram, Smith, and others disputed Pratt's claim on the same discussion group.

Computational knowledge engine

In March 2009, Wolfram announced Wolfram|Alpha, a computational data engine with a new approach to knowledge extraction and an easy-to-use interface, launched on May 16, 2009. The engine is based on natural language processing, a large library of algorithms and answers queries using the approach described in A New Kind of Science. The availability of an application programming interface (API) will allow other applications to extend and enhance Alpha. The Wolfram|Alpha engine is not a search engine in that it does not simply return a list of results based on a query, but it instead attempts to compute an answer to its input. Nova Spivack opined that "it could be as important as Google".

References

Further reading



External links




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