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, entrepreneur and former physicist[5][6] known for his contributions to theoretical physics; his pioneering 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][7][8][9][10][11][12]


Wolfram's parents were Jewish refugees who emigrated from Germany to England in the 1930s.[3][13] Wolfram's father Hugo was a textile manufacturer and novelist (Into a Neutral Country) and his mother Sybil was a professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford.[14] He has a younger brother, Conrad Wolfram.[15] Wolfram is married to a mathematician and has four children.[16]


Wolfram was educated at Eton College, but left prematurely in 1976. He entered St John's College, Oxford at age 17 but found lectures "awful",[14] and left in 1978 without graduating.[17] He received a PhD[18] in particle physics from the California Institute of Technology at age 20.[19] Wolfram's thesis committee included Richard Feynman, Peter Goldreich and Steven Frautschi.[19][20]


Following his PhD, Wolfram joined the faculty at Caltech and received one of the first MacArthur Fellowships in 1981, at age 21.[17]

Wolfram presented a talk at the TED conference in 2010,[21][22][23] and he was named Speaker of the Event for his 2012 talk at SXSW.[24] In 2012 he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[25]


According to Google Scholar, Stephen Wolfram is cited by over 30,000 publications (up to April 2012)[26] and has an h-index of 58. He has an Erdős number of 2.[27]

Unpublished works[edit]

At the age of 12, he wrote a dictionary on physics,[28] and soon by ages 13 and 14 he wrote three books on particle physics.[29][30][31] They were not published.

Particle physics[edit]

By the time he was 15 he began to research in applied quantum field theory and particle physics and publish his first 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.[32] Working independently, Wolfram published a widely cited paper on heavy quark production at age 18[3] and nine other papers,[14] and continued to research and 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 today in experimental particle physics.[33]

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.[34] SMP was further developed and marketed commercially by Inference Corp. of Los Angeles during 1983–1988.

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,[35][36][37][38][39] 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. 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[40] and helped ignite 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[41] and the journal Complex Systems in 1987.[41]


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 co-founded a company called Wolfram Research which continues to develop and market the program.[3]

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][42] 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.[22]

Computational knowledge engine[edit]

Main article: Wolfram Alpha

In March 2009, Wolfram announced Wolfram|Alpha, an answer engine with a new approach to knowledge extraction and an easy-to-use interface, launched in May 2009[43][44] and a Pro version launched on February 2012.[45] 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 (API) allows other applications to extend and enhance Alpha.[46] Wolfram|Alpha is one of the answer engines behind Microsoft's Bing[47] and Apple's Siri answering factual questions.[48]

Wolfram Language[edit]

In June 2014, Wolfram officially announced the Wolfram Language as a new general multi-paradigm programming language.[49] 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.[50]


  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 e 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. ^ Stephen Wolfram's publications indexed by the DBLP Bibliography Server at the University of Trier
  8. ^ List of publications from Microsoft Academic Search
  9. ^ Stephen Wolfram from the ACM Portal
  10. ^ Appearances on C-SPAN
  11. ^ Works by or about Stephen Wolfram in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  12. ^ Stephen Wolfram interviewed on the TV show Triangulation on the network
  13. ^ "Jüdische Schriftsteller in Westfalen: Hogarth Wolfram". 
  14. ^ a b c Levy, Steven. "The Man Who Cracked The Code to Everything ..." (10.06). Wired. Retrieved 2015-03-03. 
  15. ^ "Stephen Wolfram". Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  16. ^ "Stephen Wolfram". Sunday Profile |transcripturl= missing title (help). 2009-05-31. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  17. ^ a b Arndt, Michael (17 May 2002). "Stephen Wolfram's Simple Science". BusinessWeek. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  18. ^ Stephen Wolfram at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  19. ^ a b Wolfram, Stephen (1980). Some Topics in Theoretical High-Energy Physics (PhD thesis). California Institute of Technology. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Levy, Steven (12 February 2010). "TED 2010: How to Ace a TED Talk". WIRED. Retrieved 16 May 2012 
  22. ^ a b Stephen Wolfram at TED
  23. ^ "Stephen Wolfram: Computing a theory of everything". TED. February 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2012 
  24. ^ "SXSW Award Winners 2012". Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  25. ^ List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 1 September 2013.
  26. ^ "Stephen Wolfram publications on Google Scholar". Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ S. Wolfram (1972). Concise Directory of Physics (PDF). 
  29. ^ S. Wolfram (1973). The Physics of Subatomic Particles (PDF). 
  30. ^ S. Wolfram (1974). Introduction to the Weak Interaction (PDF) 1. 
  31. ^ S. Wolfram (1974). Introduction to the Weak Interaction (PDF) 2. 
  32. ^ Stephen Wolfram: Articles on Particle Physics
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ Kolata, G. (1983). "Caltech Torn by Dispute over Software". Science 220 (4600): 932–934. doi:10.1126/science.220.4600.932. PMID 17816011. 
  35. ^ Wolfram, S. (1984). "Computation theory of cellular automata". Communications in Mathematical Physics 96: 15–57. doi:10.1007/BF01217347. 
  36. ^ Martin, O.; Odlyzko, A. M.; Wolfram, S. (1984). "Algebraic properties of cellular automata". Communications in Mathematical Physics 93 (2): 219. doi:10.1007/BF01223745. 
  37. ^ Wolfram, S. (1986). "Cellular automaton fluids 1: Basic theory". Journal of Statistical Physics 45 (3–4): 471–526. doi:10.1007/BF01021083. 
  38. ^ Wolfram, S. (1984). "Cellular automata as models of complexity". Nature 311 (5985): 419–424. doi:10.1038/311419a0. 
  39. ^ Wolfram, S. (1983). "Statistical mechanics of cellular automata". Reviews of Modern Physics 55 (3): 601. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.55.601. 
  40. ^ W. Daniel Hillis (February 1989). "Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine". Physics Today. Retrieved 3 November 2006. 
  41. ^ a b "The Man Who Cracked The Code to Everything". Wired. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  42. ^ ISBN 1579550088
  43. ^ Wolfram, Stephen (5 March 2009). "Wolfram|Alpha Is Coming!". Wolfram blog. Retrieved 9 March 2009. 
  44. ^ "Wolfram|Alpha". Retrieved 9 March 2009. 
  45. ^ "Announcing Wolfram|Alpha Pro". Wolfram|Alpha blog. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  46. ^ Johnson, Bobbie (9 March 2009). "British search engine 'could rival Google'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2009. 
  47. ^ "Answering your questions with Bing and Wolfram Alpha". "Microsoft's Bing blog". Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  48. ^ "iPhone features". Apple. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  49. ^ Wolfram Language reference page Retrieved on 14 May 2014.
  50. ^ Slate's article Stephen Wolfram's New Programming Language: He Can Make The World Computable, 6 March 2014. Retrieved on 14 May 2014.

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