Stephen Wolfram Q&A

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Some collected questions and answers by Stephen Wolfram

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May 14, 2012

From: Reddit AMA

Mathematica, NKS, Wolfram|Alpha, what comes next? How are they all related and what is your criteria for choosing a project?

First, lots of combinations of those. There are some really interesting things emerging there.

I’m hoping one day to make a serious assault on finding the fundamental theory of physics. Perhaps that will be my next “very different” project.

How are all my projects connected? Well they all have in common that they involve taking some big hairy area and trying to break it down to find what’s essential, and then building up from there.

And each project required the previous one in order to be possible. NKS relied on Mathematica as a tool. Wolfram|Alpha I only realized was possible after what I discovered in NKS. And of course Wolfram|Alpha is all built in Mathematica.

About picking projects: I always have a supply of projects that I’m thinking about. Typically I gradually accumulate ideas about them. And wait for the right time—given ambient technology, the state of the world, my situation, etc.—to do them.

One feature of all my projects is that they’re never really done. They’re infinite projects (well, with NKS at least the book got simply “done”… 10 years ago today). And an important thing for me is to develop an organization that can keep moving each project forward, without me having to spend all my time on it. Because without that, I’d never be able to do a new project, ever.

What are my criteria for a “good” project? It must be something that I find intellectually really interesting and that I expect to make use of for the rest of my life. It must be something that I think nobody else will do, and that for some reason I and our organization are uniquely positioned to do. Oh, and it mustn’t take too long (as in, there should be something to show for it within a few years). For many projects, it also has to have some way to make business sense, so I can afford to build up a team around it, etc.

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