March 1, 1993
I noticed a rather long debate on the nets recently about the current “role” of Mathematica. Some people were arguing that presentation features should not be focused on—that all work should go into algorithm improvement. I am sure that a similar argument could be put forth about the Mathematica language itself as well. What is your view of its present role?
In terms of algorithm development, I am really very satisfied with the point we’re at and the rate at which things are progressing. My big test for these things in terms of, for example, algebraic algorithms is to be able to clearly say that if there is an integral you can think about doing, then Mathematica will be able to do it better than any person, or any other computer system. This is the same kind of issue as has arisen in playing chess. There’s a point at which eventually the computers are actually just better than people at doing it. And we’re pretty close to that point with many kinds of integrals.
One area in which you will see some significant development is in the area of Mathematica interactive documents. People have talked for quite a few years about “hypertext” and “multimedia” and electronic books, and so on. But there really isn’t a hell of a lot out there that actually makes any sense—except for Mathematica notebooks. The fact is that for all the hype that has gone into the idea of electronic books in the publishing community and the computer industry, the one example of this that actually seems to be working is Mathematica notebooks.
There are some things you’d like to be able to do with Mathematica notebooks that you can’t do now. For example, including beautiful typeset mathematical equations. That is something we are going to make work, and I think in a very nice way.