Stephan Wolfram (1959 to Present)

Stephen Wolfram at home. Source: Wikipedia


Target Health Inc. is an eCRO, that creates software for clinical trials and is interested in how Big Data is sorted through, especially for application to medical research, and clinical trials.


Wolfram Alpha (also: WolframAlpha and Wolfram|Alpha) is a computational knowledge engine or answer engine developed by Wolfram Research, which was founded by Stephen Wolfram. Stephen Wolfram is a brilliant computer scientist/physicist who thinks about the world and its issues, in a very Big way. Wolfram Research is an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from externally sourced “curated data“, rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine might. Wolfram Alpha, which was released on May 18, 2009, is based on Wolfram’s earlier flagship product Wolfram Mathematica, a computational platform or toolkit that encompasses computer algebra, symbolic and numerical computation, visualization, and statistics capabilities. Additional data is gathered from both academic and commercial websites such as the CIA’s The World Factbook, the United States Geological Survey, a Cornell University Library publication called All About Birds, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Dow Jones, the Catalogue of Life, CrunchBase, Best Buy,the FAA and optionally a user’s Facebook account.


Stephen Wolfram (born 29 August 1959) is a British-American computer scientist, physicist, and businessman. He is known for his work in computer science, mathematics, and in theoretical physics. He is the author of the book A New Kind of Science. In 2012 he was named an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society. His recent work has been on knowledge-based programming, expanding and refining the programming language of Mathematica into what is now called the Wolfram Language. His book An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language appeared in 2015 and Idea Makers appeared in 2016.


Stephen Wolfram was born in London in 1959 to Hugo and Sybil Wolfram. Wolfram’s father, Hugo Wolfram (1925-2015), a textile manufacturer born in Bochum, Germany, served as managing director of the Lurex Company, makers of the fabric Lurex, and was the author of three novels. He emigrated to England in 1933. When World War II broke out, young Hugo left school at 15 and subsequently found it hard to get a job since he was regarded as an “enemy alien.“ As an adult, he took correspondence courses in philosophy and psychology. Wolfram’s mother, Sybil Wolfram (1931-1993) was a Fellow and Tutor in philosophy at Lady Margaret Hall at University of Oxford from 1964 to 1993. She published two books, Philosophical Logic: An Introduction (1989) and In-laws and Outlaws: Kinship and Marriage in England (1987). She was the daughter of criminologist and psychoanalyst Kate Friedlander (1902-1949), an expert on the subject of juvenile delinquency, and the physician Walter Misch (1889-1943) who, together, wrote Die vegetative Genese der neurotischen Angst und ihre medikament?se Beseitigung. After the Reichstag fire in 1933, she emigrated from Berlin, Germany to England with her parents and Jewish psychoanalyst, Paula Heimann (1899-1982).


As a young child, Wolfram initially struggled in school and had difficulties learning arithmetic. At the age of 12, he wrote a dictionary on physics. By 13 or 14, he had written three books on particle physics. They were not published. Wolfram was a wunderkind. By age 15, he began research in applied quantum field theory and particle physics and published scientific papers. Topics included matter creation and annihilation, the fundamental interactions, elementary particles and their currents, hadronic and leptonic physics, and the parton model, published in professional peer-reviewed scientific journals including Nuclear Physics B, Australian Journal of Physics, Nuovo Cimento, and Physical Review D. Working independently, Wolfram published a widely cited paper on heavy quark production at age 18 and nine other papers. He continued to do research and to publish on particle physics into his early twenties. Wolfram’s work with Geoffrey C. Fox on the theory of the strong interaction is still used in experimental particle physics.


He was educated at Eton College, but left prematurely in 1976. He entered St. John’s College, Oxford at age 17 but found lectures “awful“, and left in 1978 without graduating to attend the California Institute of Technology, the following year, where he received a PhD in particle physics on November 19, 1979 at age 20. Wolfram’s thesis committee was composed of Richard Feynman, Peter Goldreich, Frank J. Sciulli and Steven Frautschi, and chaired by Richard D. Field. A 1981 letter from Feynman to Gerald Freund giving reference for Wolfram for the MacArthur grant appears in Feynman’s collective letters, Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track. Following his PhD, Wolfram joined the faculty at Caltech and became the youngest recipient of the MacArthur Fellowships in 1981, at age 21. In 1983, Wolfram left for the School of Natural Sciences of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he conducted research into cellular automata, mainly with computer simulations. He produced a series of papers systematically investigating the class of elementary cellular automata, conceiving the Wolfram code, a naming system for one-dimensional cellular automata, and a classification scheme for the complexity of their behavior. He conjectured that the Rule 110 cellular automaton might be Turing complete.


A 1985 letter, from Feynman to Wolfram, also appears in Feynman’s letters. In it, in response to Wolfram writing to him that he was thinking about creating some kind of institute where he might study complex systems, Feynman tells Wolfram, “You do not understand ordinary people,“ and advises him “find a way to do your research with as little contact with non-technical people as possible.“ In the mid-1980s, Wolfram worked on simulations of physical processes (such as turbulent fluid flow) with cellular automata on the Connection Machine alongside Richard Feynman and helped initiate the field of complex systems, founding the first institute devoted to this subject, The Center for Complex Systems Research (CCSR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the journal Complex Systems in 1987. Wolfram led the development of the computer algebra system SMP (Symbolic Manipulation Program) in the Caltech physics department during 1979-1981. 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 1986 Wolfram left the Institute for Advanced Study for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 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. From 1992 to 2002, Wolfram 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 that 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.


In March 2009, Wolfram announced Wolfram|Alpha, an answer engine. Wolfram|Alpha later launched in May 2009, and a paid-for version with extra features launched on February 2012. The engine is based on natural language processing and a large library of algorithms, and answers queries using the approach described in A New Kind of Science. The application programming interface allows other applications to extend and enhance Alpha. Wolfram believes that as Wolfram Alpha comes into common use, “It will raise the level of scientific things that the average person can do.“ Wolfram|Alpha is one of the answer engines behind Microsoft’s Bing and Apple’s Siri answering factual questions. In June 2014, Wolfram officially announced the Wolfram Language as a new general multi-paradigm programming language. The documentation for the language was pre-released in October 2013 to coincide with the bundling of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language on every Raspberry Pi computer. While the Wolfram Language has existed for over 25 years as the primary programming language used in Mathematica, it was not officially named until 2014. Wolfram’s son, Christopher Wolfram, appeared on the program of SXSW giving a live-coding demonstration using Wolfram Language and has blogged about Wolfram Language for Wolfram Research. On 8 December 2015, Wolfram published the book “An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language“ to introduce people with no knowledge of programming to the Wolfram Language and the kind of computational thinking it allows. Both Stephen Wolfram and Christopher Wolfram were involved in helping create the alien language for the film Arrival, for which they used the Wolfram Language. The significance that data has on the products Stephen creates transfers into his own life. He has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, key strokes made, meetings and events attended, phone calls, even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. He has stated “[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives“.

Sources: Wikipedia;


Click here to read a short piece by Stephan Wolfram, written beautifully with great clarity, about his vision of artificial intelligence and how humans should deal with it, through a shared language, through personal analytics and more. To know more about shared language, all humans should read, the recently published: An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language. If you saw the Academy Award nominee, Arrival, you would have heard a version of this shared language, which a human linguist, is finally able to understand.


Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

John Keats


TED talk by Stephan Wolfram Computing a Theory of Everything



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