# Stephen Wolfram Q&A

Submit a questionSome collected questions and answers by Stephen Wolfram

*Questions may be edited for brevity; see links for full questions.*

# Software Technology

(63)January 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## What does developing a programming language “for its own sake” mean?

January 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## You’ve considered “making a thing that will probably be called M, that is essentially Mathematica without the mathematics”. But how seriously?

January 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## What are the virtues of symbolic languages like Mathematica vs. procedurally based languages like Basic?

January 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## When you were first testing your ideas for Mathematica in SMP, it would have been about the time Clocksin and Mellish were bringing Prolog to a wider audience with their book. Were you influenced by Prolog at that time?

January 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## How did SMP influence Mathematica?

February 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## Do you have any opinions on the dominant paradigms of today, and about which will survive into the next decade?

February 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## So one rationale behind procedural programming is that it’s easy to learn. But one rationale for a hidden state is an optimization of some sort. Why do you think people don’t need optimization anymore?

February 1, 1993

From: Interview by Michael Swaine, *Dr. Dobb's Journal*

## What are your thoughts on parallel processing and its relation to language?

March 1, 1993

From: Interview by Paul Wellin, *Mathematica in Education*

## The early computer algebra systems—Macsyma, SMP, etc.—were they used purely as research tools or was there some notion that they might be used in the classroom also?

March 1, 1993

From: Interview by Paul Wellin, *Mathematica in Education*

## 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?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## The reception of the Mathematica system in the mathematical community has on occasion raised unexpectedly high feelings, and has sometimes appeared to take on the dimensions of a zealot’s war of disparagement against hype. Do you have an explanation for this fairly unique occurrence? What is your view of the matter?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## You have been working on a book about science for some time. Can you sketch some of your ideas? Are there implications for symbolic computation and symbolic computation systems?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## What has been in your view the most important effect of Mathematica since its release?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## Where has Mathematica not met your expectations?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## Symbolic computation as a research discipline has an uneasy existence between mathematics and computer science. Will this change? What can be done to change it?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## In what areas of mathematics do you see an underdeveloped potential for computational methods? What could be done to encourage developments?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## One paradigm currently attracting interest is knowledge-based symbolic algorithms and computing. Do you see potential for this approach?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## One discernible computational trend in networking is remote software: do you see consequences for symbolic computation systems?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## Will parallelismâ€”and systems which support itâ€”be a decisive issue?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## Do you believe that any further major general-purpose symbolic computation systems could be successfully launched in the future?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## One sees a multiplication of smaller specialized systems whose design is also increasingly sophisticated. What balance and relationship do you see in the future between specialized and comprehensive systems?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## One strange aspect of symbolic computation is that the production of mathematical software is an almost invisible, unrecorded discipline. Do you have an explanation for this?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## The community has proponents of “free” software. Increasing numbers of researchers and better software engineering might make public domain systems increasingly serious contenders. What future do you see for the roles of free and commercial software?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## The use of symbolic computational tools in teaching is a controversial topic where transatlantic differences are particularly evident; what is your view on the matter?

June 1, 1996

From: Interview by Stephen Collart, *Euromath Bulletin*

## Lisp was built on the tradition of the lambda calculus. When Prolog became popular a good dozen years ago, it also spawned a flurry of research into the semantics of logic programming. The evaluation model of Mathematica as a programming language is at least as complex and interesting: why has there been no comparable interest?

September 30, 1996

From: Interview by Robers Lee Hotz, *Los Angeles Times*

## You started your design of Mathematica where most software developers end theirs—by writing a 1,395-page users’ manual. Why?

October 30, 1996

From: Interview by Nick Turner, *Investor's Business Daily*

## What’s the market for technical computing?

February 6, 1998

From: Interview by David Stork, *Hal's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality*

## What did you think about the computers in *2001: A Space Odyssey*?

February 6, 1998

From: Interview by David Stork, *Hal's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality*

## Have you yourself worked much on the problem of building intelligent machines?

July 7, 2002

From: Interview by Loch Adamson, *The New York Times*

## After *A New Kind of Science*, do you have a follow-up project planned?

May 9, 2003

From: Interview by John Russell, *Bio-ITWorld*

## Who is looking for primitives to use to describe biological systems, and how long will it take before we see tools that are based on them?

July 1, 2008

From: Interview by Luciano Floridi, *Philosophy of Computing and Information: 5 Questions*

## What is the proper role of computer science and/or information science in relation to other disciplines?

July 1, 2008

From: Interview by Luciano Floridi, *Philosophy of Computing and Information: 5 Questions*

## What do you consider the most neglected topics and/or contributions in late 20th-century studies of computation and/or information?

May 29, 2009

From: Interview by Monica Attard, ABC Local

## Is Wolfram|Alpha another Google, a simple search engine? Or is it like a vast encyclopedia of sorts?

May 29, 2009

From: Interview by Monica Attard, ABC Local

## How important is it to you to identify sources on Wolfram|Alpha?

May 29, 2009

From: Interview by Monica Attard, ABC Local

## How do you access all those repositories of knowledge that you use in Wolfram|Alpha?

May 29, 2009

From: Interview by Monica Attard, ABC Local

## Google is planning to launch a similar service to Wolfram|Alpha called Google Squared. Do you see it as similar?

August 31, 2009

From: Interview by Kaustubh Katdare, *CrazyEngineers*

## Could you give a brief overview of the algorithms that make Wolfram|Alpha work and produce great results?

August 31, 2009

From: Interview by Kaustubh Katdare, *CrazyEngineers*

## Where does Wolfram|Alpha get all its data? Does it crawl the Internet like web search engines?

August 31, 2009

From: Interview by Kaustubh Katdare, *CrazyEngineers*

## Are the new rules of logic upon which computation can be based, radically different from conventional logic? Alternatively, is it an extension of conventional logic + something else?

August 31, 2009

From: Interview by Kaustubh Katdare, *CrazyEngineers*

## How did you go about building Wolfram|Alpha? What were the design challenges and architecture of Wolfram|Alpha?

August 31, 2009

From: Interview by Kaustubh Katdare, *CrazyEngineers*

## What kind of infrastructure do you have to process all the data in Wolfram|Alpha?

January 5, 2010

From: Interview by Gregory T. Huang, *Xconomy*

## From a technology standpoint, what’s next for Wolfram|Alpha?

January 5, 2010

From: Interview by Gregory T. Huang, *Xconomy*

## How mainstream will Wolfram|Alpha become, compared with search engines like Google or Bing?

November 3, 2011

From: Interview by Mark Jannot, *Popular Science*

## Is it fair to say that the fundamental aim of Wolfram|Alpha is to foster and democratize computational knowledge?

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?

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?

May 14, 2012

From: Reddit AMA

## Have you ever worked with APL or J or the K/Q programming languages, and what is your opinion of J especiallyâ€”its usefulness in research, mathematics and industry and perhaps how it compares with Mathematica?

May 14, 2012

From: Reddit AMA

## What can be done to improve natural language search algorithms? For example, this morning on Wolfram|Alpha I tried: “Time it takes to walk 500km” and it searched “time it”. “Time to walk 500km” and it searched for “walk”. “How long does it take to walk 500km” and it searched “how long does it take”. “Time taken to walk 500km at average human walking speed” and it searched “average human walking speed”.

January 8, 2013

From: Interview by Lars Mensel and Thore Barfuss, *The European*

## Do we sometimes overestimate the power of computing?

July 27, 2015

From: Interview by Byron Reese, *Gigaom*

## What is the state of the technology? Have we built something as smart as a bird, for instance?

February 23, 2016

From: Reddit AMA

## What’s the biggest technological advancement that has helped your company?

November 7, 2016

From: Interview by Dingyu Chen, *Eton Magazine*

## Will mathematicians need to learn classical mathematics (algebra, analysis, calculus) in the future if computers can do it for us?

November 7, 2016

From: Interview by Dingyu Chen, *Eton Magazine*

## Your products so far have been wildly successful and crucial in the lives of many. Do you have any plans for future releases?

November 7, 2016

From: Interview by Dingyu Chen, *Eton Magazine*

## What first inspired you to create Wolfram|Alpha?

November 7, 2016

From: Interview by Dingyu Chen, *Eton Magazine*

## What is it like programming and bringing a concept to life? Do you find it challenging and strenuous, or do you feel like you have the freedom to manage your own work?

April 3, 2018

From: Interview by Harrison Tasoff, Space.com

## How did *2001: A Space Odyssey* affect the projects you’ve embarked on and the approach you took to them?

*2001*. Because at the time when

*2001*came out, computers were absolutely not visual things. In the first computer I used, its only form of IO [input/ output] was a paper tape reader and punch and a tele-printer. Read more

March 4, 2019

From: Reddit AMA

## Do you think there will ever be a treatment for math disorders such as Dyscalculia, and how do you think software may be able to assist this effort?

March 4, 2019

From: Reddit AMA

## What’s an easy addition that would improve your infrastructure in the next year or two? Could you add some NLP to scan online papers and surface ones that, for example, relate to your current project(s)?

March 4, 2019

From: Reddit AMA

## What do you feel about complexity after 30 years of developing a system?

November 4, 2019

From: Interview by Margaret Harris, *Physics World*

## How is computing different from programming?

December 18, 2019

From: Interview by Guy Kawasaki, *Remarkable People Podcast*

## How do you define computation?

December 18, 2019

From: Interview by Guy Kawasaki, *Remarkable People Podcast*