Leafing through the latest Economist Technology Quarterly, I spotted a two page profile of Stephen Wolfram. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily paint him in the most flattering of lights. I suppose fierce intellect, a mind that no doubt relishes the challenge of big ideas and a lack of fear of saying what you believe can do that. I won’t be reading a New Kind of Science (the main focus of this article – Wolfram Alpha is just a step in that direction) any time soon, but when I do it will be the iPad version, rather than the massive print version.
• Economist Technology Quarterly: Alpha Geek
One of my realisations, or maybe it’s just a piece of arrogance, is that the amount of knowledge and data in the world is big, but it’s not that big,” he says. “In astronomy, there’s a petabyte—a million gigabytes—of data about what’s out there in the universe. There are also swathes of data from digital cameras, Twitter feeds and even road-traffic movements. It’s a bit daunting, but I soon realised that the bigger challenge is not the underlying data but the computations that get done on them.
I found that the best way to do interesting intellectual stuff is to have a company that’s successful enough to pay for it.
It is difficult to assess the validity of Dr Wolfram’s theories, or how he will be judged b.y history. Einstein’s bizarre-sounding theories, he notes, took years to become accepted. Is he really a figure of similar importance, as he seems to think? Dr Wolfram presented his ideas at the TED conference in California in 2010, and the audience tittered as he casually likened his creation of Mathematica with Galileo’s construction of a telescope, and claimed that NKS was superior to the mathematics-based science of the past 300 years, thus comparing himself implicitly with Newton. Even so, his speech received a standing ovation. But winning over a conference audience is one thing; convincing the scientific community to accept his ideas will be much harder.
Stephen Wolfram: Computing a theory of everything (TED 2010):