Stephen Wolfram

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Stephen Wolfram
Stephen Wolfram PR.jpg
Wolfram in 2008.
Born Stephen Wolfram
(1959-08-29) 29 August 1959 (age 56)
London, England, United Kingdom 
Residence Concord, Massachusetts,
United States
Nationality British
Alma mater

Some Topics in Theoretical High-Energy Physics (1980

Known for
Influences Richard Crandall[4]
Notable awards MacArthur Fellowship (1981)

Stephen Wolfram (born 29 August 1959) is a computer scientist, mathematician, entrepreneur, and physicist[5][6] known for contributions to theoretical physics; his work on knowledge-based programming; as the CEO of Wolfram Research and chief designer of Mathematica and the Wolfram Alpha answer engine; and as the author of the book A New Kind of Science[2] and the Wolfram Language. In 2012 he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[7]

Family & early life[edit]

Stephen Wolfram is married to a mathematician and they have four children.[8]

He was born in 1959 in London in 1959 to Hugo and Sybil Wolfram.

Hugo Wolfram[edit]

His father, Hugo Wolfram (1925- in Bochum, Germany), a textile manufacturer, served as Managing Director of the Lurex Company, makers of the fabric Lurex and was also author of three novels.[9][10][11][12] Hugo Wolfram was born in Germany, emigrating to England in 1933.[13] 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 an "enemy alien." As an adult, he took correspondence courses in philosophy and psychology.[9]

Sybil Wolfram[edit]

His mother, Sybil Wolfram (1931-1993; born Sybille Misch). 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)[14] and In-laws and Outlaws: Kinship and Marriage in England (1987).[15][16] She was the translator of Claude Lévi-Strauss's La pensée sauvage (The Savage Mind), but later disavowed the translation.[17][18] She was the daughter of criminologist and psychoanalyst Kate Friedlander (1902-1949), an expert on the subject of juvenile delinquency,[19] and the physician Walter Misch (1889-1943) who, together, wrote Die vegetative Genese der neurotischen Angst und ihre medikamentöse Beseitigung.[20] After the burning of the Reichstag in 1933, she emigrated from Berlin, Germany to England with her parents and Jewish psychoanalyst, Paula Heimann (1899–1982).[21][22][23]

Education & early career[edit]

As a young child, Wolfram initially struggled in school and had difficulties learning arithmetic.[24] At the age of 12, he wrote a dictionary on physics.[25] By 13 or 14, he wrote three books on particle physics.[26][27][28] They were not published.

Particle physics[edit]

By age 15 he, began research in applied quantum field theory and particle physics and publish 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.[29] Working independently, Wolfram published a widely cited paper on heavy quark production at age 18[3] and nine other papers,[16] and continued 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.[30]

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",[16] and left in 1978[31] without graduating[32][33] to attend the California Institute of Technology, the following year, where he received a PhD[34] in particle physics at age 20.[35] Wolfram's thesis committee was composed of Richard Feynman, Peter Goldreich, and Steven Frautschi.[35][36]

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[37] MacArthur Fellowships in 1981, at age 21.[32]

Later career[edit]

Complex systems and cellular automata[edit]

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,[38][39][40][41][42] 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.

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."[43]

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[44] 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[45] and the journal Complex Systems in 1987.[45]

Symbolic Manipulation Program[edit]

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.[46] 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 in 1988, when he left academia. In 1987 he founded a company called Wolfram Research which continues to develop and market the program.[3]

Near the end of Sybil Wolfram's life, as part of her research for In-laws and Outlaws, she used her son's program Mathematica to analyze her data.[21]

Wolfram's younger brother, Conrad Wolfram, serves as CEO of Wolfram Research Europe, Ltd.[47][48]

A New Kind of Science[edit]

Main article: A New Kind of Science

From 1992 to 2002, he worked on his controversial book A New Kind of Science,[3][49] 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 realisation 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.[50]

Computational knowledge engine[edit]

Main article: Wolfram Alpha

In March 2009, Wolfram announced Wolfram|Alpha, an answer engine. Wolfram|Alpha later launched in May 2009,[51] and a paid-for version with extra features launched on February 2012.[52] 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.[53] Wolfram believes that as Wolfram Alpha comes into common use, "It will raise the level of scientific things that the average person can do."[54]

Wolfram|Alpha is one of the answer engines behind Microsoft's Bing[55][56] and Apple's Siri answering factual questions.[57]

Wolfram Language[edit]

Main article: Wolfram Language

In June 2014, Wolfram officially announced the Wolfram Language as a new general multi-paradigm programming language.[58] 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.[59] Wolfram's son, Christopher Wolfram, appeared on the program of SXSW giving a live-coding demonstration using Wolfram Language[60] and has blogged about Wolfram Language for Wolfram Research.[61]

Wolfram's book An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language will appear in late 2015.[62]


  1. ^ Wolfram, S. (2013). "Computer algebra". Proceedings of the 38th international symposium on International symposium on symbolic and algebraic computation - ISSAC '13. p. 7. doi:10.1145/2465506.2465930. ISBN 9781450320597. 
  2. ^ a b Stephen Wolfram's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  3. ^ a b c d Giles, J. (2002). "Stephen Wolfram: What kind of science is this?". Nature 417 (6886): 216–218. doi:10.1038/417216a. PMID 12015565. 
  4. ^ Wolfram, S. (2013). "Remembering Richard Crandall (1947--2012)". ACM Communications in Computer Algebra 47: 14. doi:10.1145/2503697.2503700. 
  5. ^ "Stephen Wolfram". Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  6. ^ "Stephen Wolfram: 'I am an information pack rat'". New Scientist. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  7. ^ List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 1 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Stephen Wolfram". Sunday Profile. 2009-05-31. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  9. ^ a b Telling a good yarn by Jenny Lunnon, Oxford Times, Thursday 21 September 2006.
  10. ^ PHYSICIST AWARDED 'GENIUS' PRIZE FINDS REALITY IN INVISIBLE WORLD, by GLADWIN HILL, Special to the New York Times, Published: May 24, 1981
  11. ^ Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center: Wolfram, Hugo (1925- ): "The Hugo Wolfram collection consists of manuscripts by Wolfram for novels, short stories, and essays."
  12. ^ Kirkus review of Into a Neutral Country, 1969
  13. ^ Hugo Wolfram. 1925- , Jüdische Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftsteller in Westfalen.
  14. ^ Philosophical Logic: An Introduction by Sybil Wolfram on Google Books.
  15. ^ In-laws and Outlaws: Kinship and Marriage in England by Sybil Wolfram on Google Books.
  16. ^ a b c Levy, Steven. "The Man Who Cracked The Code to Everything ..." (10.06). Wired. Retrieved 2015-03-03. 
  17. ^ Letter to the Editor, American Anthropologist, February, 1967.
  18. ^ Times Literary Supplement, October 29, 2008. "The century of Claude Lévi-Strauss: How the great anthropologist, now approaching his 100th birthday, has earned a place in the prestigious Pléiade library", by Patrick Wilcken.
  19. ^ The Psycho-Analytical Approach to Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Case Studies, Treatment by Kate Friedlander (1947) on Google Books.
  20. ^ Kate Friedländer née Frankl (1902-1949), Psychoanalytikerinnen. Biografisches Lexikon. Trans: "The vegetative genesis of neurotic anxiety and drug elimination"
  21. ^ a b Smith, M. E.. (1993). Obituary. Anthropology Today, 9(6), 22–22. Retrieved from
  22. ^ FRIEDLANDER, KATE in Jewish Virtual Library.
  23. ^ Kate Friedländer née Frankl (1902-1949), Psychoanalytikerinnen. Biografisches Lexikon.
  24. ^ PHYSICIST AWARDED 'GENIUS' PRIZE FINDS REALITY IN INVISIBLE WORLD, by GLADWIN HILL, Special to the New York Times, Published: May 24, 1981: "When I first went to school, they thought I was behind, he says, because I didn't want to read the silly books they gave us. And I never was able to do arithmetic. It was when he got into higher mathematics, such as calculus, he says, that he realized there was an invisible world that he wanted to explore."
  25. ^ S. Wolfram (1972). Concise Directory of Physics (PDF). 
  26. ^ S. Wolfram (1973). The Physics of Subatomic Particles (PDF). 
  27. ^ S. Wolfram (1974). Introduction to the Weak Interaction (PDF) 1. 
  28. ^ S. Wolfram (1974). Introduction to the Weak Interaction (PDF) 2. 
  29. ^ Stephen Wolfram: Articles on Particle Physics
  30. ^ Fox, G.; Wolfram, S. (1978). "Observables for the Analysis of Event Shapes in e^{+}e^{-} Annihilation and Other Processes". Physical Review Letters 41 (23): 1581. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.41.1581. 
  31. ^ Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell, p. 151: “In the early 1980s, Stephen Wolfram, a physicist working at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, became fascinated by cellular automata and the patterns they make. Wolfram is one of those legendary child prodigies people like to tell stories about. Born in London in 1959, Wolfram published his first physics paper at 15. Two years later, in the summer after his first year at Oxford, . . . Wolfram wrote a paper in the field of “quantum chromodynamics” that attracted the attention of Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who invited Wolfram to join his group at Caltech…”
  32. ^ a b Arndt, Michael (17 May 2002). "Stephen Wolfram's Simple Science". BusinessWeek. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  33. ^ Stephen Wolfram: 'The textbook has never interested me': The British child genius who abandoned physics to devote himself to coding and the cosmos, by Zoë Corbyn, The Guardian, Saturday 28 June 2014: "He entered Oxford University at 17 without A-levels and left around a year later without graduating. He was bored and he had been invited to cross the pond by the prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to do a PhD. "I had written a bunch of papers and so was pretty well known by that time,""
  34. ^ Stephen Wolfram at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  35. ^ a b Wolfram, Stephen (1980). Some Topics in Theoretical High-Energy Physics (PhD thesis). California Institute of Technology. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ "About Stephen Wolfram". Retrieved 2015-10-13. 
  38. ^ Wolfram, S. (1984). "Computation theory of cellular automata". Communications in Mathematical Physics 96: 15–57. doi:10.1007/BF01217347. 
  39. ^ Martin, O.; Odlyzko, A. M.; Wolfram, S. (1984). "Algebraic properties of cellular automata". Communications in Mathematical Physics 93 (2): 219. doi:10.1007/BF01223745. 
  40. ^ Wolfram, S. (1986). "Cellular automaton fluids 1: Basic theory". Journal of Statistical Physics 45 (3–4): 471–526. doi:10.1007/BF01021083. 
  41. ^ Wolfram, S. (1984). "Cellular automata as models of complexity". Nature 311 (5985): 419–424. doi:10.1038/311419a0. 
  42. ^ Wolfram, S. (1983). "Statistical mechanics of cellular automata". Reviews of Modern Physics 55 (3): 601. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.55.601. 
  43. ^ Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track by Richard Feynman on Google Books.]
  44. ^ W. Daniel Hillis (February 1989). "Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine". Physics Today. Retrieved 3 November 2006. 
  45. ^ a b "The Man Who Cracked The Code to Everything". Wired. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  46. ^ Kolata, G. (1983). "Caltech Torn by Dispute over Software". Science 220 (4600): 932–934. doi:10.1126/science.220.4600.932. PMID 17816011. 
  47. ^ Bio,
  48. ^ "Stephen Wolfram". Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  49. ^ ISBN 1579550088
  50. ^ TED (2010) Stephen Wolfram: Scientist, inventor. [Online] (accessed 19 January 2010).
  51. ^ Wolfram, Stephen (5 March 2009). "Wolfram|Alpha Is Coming!". Wolfram blog. Retrieved 9 March 2009. 
  52. ^ "Announcing Wolfram|Alpha Pro". Wolfram|Alpha blog. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  53. ^ Johnson, Bobbie (9 March 2009). "British search engine 'could rival Google'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2009. 
  54. ^ Wolfram|Alpha: Searching for Truth by Rudy Rucker, H+ Magazine, April 6, 2009.
  55. ^ "Answering your questions with Bing and Wolfram Alpha". "Microsoft's Bing blog". Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  56. ^ Stephen Wolfram Talks Bing Partnership, Software Strategy, and the Future of Knowledge Computing by Gregory T. Huang, Xconomy, January 5th, 2010.
  57. ^ "iPhone features". Apple. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  58. ^ Wolfram Language reference page Retrieved on 14 May 2014.
  59. ^ Slate's article Stephen Wolfram's New Programming Language: He Can Make The World Computable, 6 March 2014. Retrieved on 14 May 2014.
  60. ^ What Tech Makes Possible in EDU Research, SXSW Panelpicker.
  61. ^ New in the Wolfram Language: Cryptography, May 15, 2015 by Christopher Wolfram, Connectivity Group
  62. ^ For Beginners: A book (or two) to learn the Wolfram Language, David Reiss, November 15, 2015.

External links[edit]