Stephen Wolfram Q&A

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Some collected questions and answers by Stephen Wolfram

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November 3, 2011

From: Interview by Mark Jannot, Popular Science

The notion that all of our exponential growth curves in data gathering, storage and processing ability have delivered us to a real paradigm-shift moment in terms of how data can both help us to understand our world and to change it. Do you agree with that? And how does that dovetail with your own work with data and computation?

There are several different branches here. Let’s start with, when you say data, what are the sources of data in the world today? One source of data is people compiling data—census data, data on properties of chemicals. This is largely human-compiled data. What has happened today is that there are very large data repositories in lots of different areas. Many of them were started 30 years ago, and they’ve been just gradually building up, building up. Those data repositories were made possible originally by the existence of at first mainframe and then later generations of computers. That’s what got lots of people really launched on being able to create those data repositories. So source number-one for data is the human aggregation of data. Another source of data, which is just coming online in a big way, is sensor data. At this point, there’s some kind of public sensor data, whether it’s seismometers from around the world or whether it’s traffic-flow sensors, lots of much more private sensor-based data that people use for their own purposes. That’s leading to a huge torrent of quite homogeneous data. It’s “the level of this river as a function of time, every minute for the past however long”.

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