Stephen Wolfram on the future of programming and why we live in a computational universe (free PDF)

The brains behind Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and the Wolfram Language talks about how programming languages need to develop.

This download provides the magazine version of the long-form article by Nick Heath as a free PDF for registered TechRepublic and ZDNet members.

From the story:

When it came to figuring out which computer scientist should help linguists decipher inscrutable alien texts, it was Stephen Wolfram who got the call.

Sure, these extraterrestrials may only have existed in the sci-fi movie Arrival, but if ET ever does drop out of orbit, Wolfram might well still be on the short list of people to contact.

The British-born computer scientist’s life is littered with exceptional achievements — completing a PhD in theoretical physics at Caltech at age 20, winning a MacArthur Genius Grant at 21, and creating the technical computing platform Mathematica (which is used by millions of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers worldwide), plus the Wolfram Language, and the Wolfram|Alpha knowledge engine.

His role advising for Arrival came out of the blue, when what he says was an interesting script crossed his desk with a request for help in consulting and creating some visuals for the soon-to-be-shot movie.

While Wolfram’s involvement was mostly advising on some of the science and technical references in the script, his son Christopher was charged with devising a way in which linguists might decode these alien writings with next to no frame of reference, which meant the Wolfram Language also got some screen time.

At points during the film you can see Wolfram Language code being run as it deconstructs the alien logograms, slicing them up to help the on-screen linguists infer meaning from common patterns.

“The thing that was interesting is it’s an alien first-contact story, and it’s all about language and how we understand things,” says Wolfram, explaining why he and his son took up the offer.

“Since I’ve spent much of my life as a computational language designer, I better be interested in how one can communicate thoughts with things like language.”

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