|Born||29 August 1959|
|Awards||MacArthur Fellowship (1981)|
|Thesis||Some Topics in Theoretical High-Energy Physics (1980)|
|Doctoral advisor||Richard D. Field|
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 theoretical physics. In 2012, he was named a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
As a businessman, he is the founder and CEO of the software company Wolfram Research where he worked as chief designer of Mathematica and the Wolfram Alpha answer engine.
Stephen Wolfram was born in London in 1959 to Hugo and Sybil Wolfram, both German Jewish refugees to the United Kingdom. His maternal grandmother was British psychoanalyst Kate Friedlander.
Wolfram's father, Hugo Wolfram, was a textile manufacturer and served as managing director of the Lurex Company—makers of the fabric Lurex. Wolfram's mother, Sybil Wolfram, was a Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Lady Margaret Hall at University of Oxford from 1964 to 1993.
Stephen Wolfram is married to a mathematician. They have four children together.
Wolfram was educated at Eton College, but left prematurely in 1976. As a young child, Wolfram had difficulties learning arithmetic. At the age of 12, he wrote a directory of physics. By age 14, he had written three books on particle physics. He entered St. John's College, Oxford, at age 17 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 19 November 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.
Wolfram, at the age of 15, began research in applied quantum field theory and particle physics and published scientific papers in 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. Wolfram's work with Geoffrey C. Fox on the theory of the strong interaction is still used in experimental particle physics.
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. By that time, he was no longer interested in particle physics. Instead, he began pursuing investigations 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 behaviour. He conjectured that the Rule 110 cellular automaton might be Turing complete, which was later proved correct. Wolfram's cellular-automata work came to be cited in more than 10,000 papers.
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. In 1984, he was a participant in the Founding Workshops of the Santa Fe Institute, along with Nobel laureates Murray Gell-Mann, Manfred Eigen, and Philip Warren Anderson, and future laureate Frank Wilczek. In 1986, he founded the Center for Complex Systems Research (CCSR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. In 1987, he founded the journal Complex Systems.
Main article: Symbolic Manipulation Program
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 led him to resign from Caltech. SMP was further developed and marketed commercially by Inference Corp. of Los Angeles during 1983–1988.
Main article: Mathematica
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 on 23 June 1988, when he left academia. In 1987, he founded Wolfram Research which continues to develop and market the program.
Main article: A New Kind of Science
From 1992 to 2002, Wolfram worked on his controversial book A New Kind of Science, which presents an empirical study of 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 discrete in its nature, and runs on fundamental laws which can be described as simple programs. He predicts that a realization of this within scientific communities will have a revolutionary influence on physics, chemistry, biology, and a majority of scientific areas in general, hence the book's title.
Main article: Wolfram Alpha
In March 2009, Wolfram announced Wolfram Alpha, an answer engine. WolframAlpha later launched in May 2009, and a paid-for version with extra features launched in February 2012. The engine is based on natural language processing and a large library of algorithms. The application programming interface allows other applications to extend and enhance Wolfram Alpha.
Main article: Touchpress
In 2010, Wolfram co-founded Touchpress along with Theodore Gray, Max Whitby, and John Cromie. The company specialised in creating in-depth premium apps and games covering a wide range of educational subjects designed for children, parents, students, and educators. Since the launch, Touchpress has published more than 100 apps. The company is no longer active.
Main article: Wolfram Language
In March 2014, at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) event, Wolfram officially announced the Wolfram Language as a new general multi-paradigm programming language and currently better known as a multi-paradigm computational communication language, though it was previously available through Mathematica and not an entirely new 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 with some controversy because of its proprietary nature. While the Wolfram Language has existed for over 30 years as the primary programming language used in Mathematica, it was not officially named until 2014.
In April 2020, Wolfram announced the "Wolfram Physics Project" as an effort to reduce and explain all the laws of physics within a paradigm of a hypergraph that is transformed by minimal rewriting rules which obey the Church-Rosser property. The effort is a continuation of the ideas he originally described in A New Kind of Science. Wolfram claims that "From an extremely simple model, we're able to reproduce special relativity, general relativity and the core results of quantum mechanics." Physicists are generally unimpressed with Wolfram's claim, and state that Wolfram's results are non-quantitative and arbitrary.
The significance data has on the products Wolfram creates transfers into his own life. He has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, keystrokes made, meetings and events attended, phone calls, even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. In the preface of A New Kind of Science, he noted that he recorded over one-hundred million keystrokes and one-hundred mouse miles. He has stated "[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives."
Stephen Wolfram was involved as a scientific consultant for the 2016 film Arrival. He and his son Christopher wrote some of the code featured on-screen, such as the code in graphics depicting an analysis of the alien logograms, for which they used the Wolfram Language.
He livestreams meetings centered around improving the Wolfram Language on YouTube.
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