June 1, 1996
With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you would have developed differently in Mathematica?
Surprisingly little, actually. Of course it’s very scary when one makes a system that lots of people use: one has to get things right the first time—one can’t go back later and make incompatible changes. But eight years on I’m actually very pleased with how few things I would have done differently.
I guess there is one decision that I sometimes think about: the decision to call the thing we built “Mathematica”. I had thought that referring to mathematics was a good thing to do—but I didn’t realize how many people out there really really despise mathematics. They think mathematics is just something unpleasant that they have to do in school, and they want to forget about it as quickly as possible. The funny thing is, though, that in fact they’re often using mathematics—at least through Mathematica—doing all sorts of kinds of analysis, modeling and so on. I think mathematics really has a major image problem, and with the name Mathematica we’re at least somewhat tied to it. For all sorts of reasons, I’d love to improve the general image of mathematics—and I’ve tried doing it in various ways—but I think most academic mathematicians are still in denial that there’s any problem. Perhaps they’ll change their minds when the public makes it clearer that there isn’t going to be any more money for mathematics unless people get a better impression of it.