The Story of Mathematica, 25 Years Anniversary

This is the story of Stephen Wolfram and Mathematica from the man himself.

Started out in his teen as a physicist which he was required to do a lot of mathematical calculation, he started making use of any available computational system he could leverage on.

It didn’t take long for him to outgrow those systems. Facing limitation to solve problems he was determined to find answers, he went on to build the first commercial computer algebra system.

During initial attempts, Stephen ended up having multiple sub systems which he had encountered difficulties trying to get all of them to work together. He called the process messy! It prompted him to think about redesigning the whole thing in order to build a singular and larger system which became Mathematica today. That was in in October 1986.

Mathematica was built based on a few core principles, some of which are slightly personal.

1.) It has to be the only computational system he would ever have to use in his life.

2.) User friendly

3.) Modular and modules working seamlessly together

4.) Automation

The core of Mathematica’s engine is symbolic programming whereby everything can be represented as symbolic representation. When such is achieved, everything can then be represented in a uniform manner which then can be subjected to uniform manipulation.

And if you haven’t tried out Mathematica, it is quite simple to use.

All you have to do is to type in a question, it will reply with an answer.

For instance, you type 1000 !

It will reply you with a series of number that represents 1000 factorial.

Other usage examples include dragging a picture from The Internet and use Mathematica split the image into smallest pieces for analysis.

So, Mathematica version 1 was released on June 23 1988.

During those period, computer is not available to everybody. Microsoft had released the first version of Windows in 1984. According to Wolfram, even scientists, engineers and matheticians hadn’t used computer much because it was messy and time consuming. Most of the computing jobs were performed by trained computer technicians.

Thus, Mathematica version 1 was an eye opener for scientists,engineers and mathematicians because it was easy to use.

In the beginning, the killer app for Mathematica was Mathematics. It was the system for doing Mathematics on the computer.

Over the years, Stephen has always been concerned with the overall design of the Mathematica, while he hired a team to build the system from version 1 to version 8 today.

Stephen acknowledged unfair advantage compared to other computational systems. Mathematica is designed as high-level application with built-in general algorithm in every area such as numerical computation, image processing, data analysis, graph theory and etc.

This makes it generic and powerful enough to compete with other problem-focused system such as business analytics (IBM Cognos), image processing system (Adobe Photoshop) and etc. And if there is no optimized algorithm to solve a specific problem, one can always build new ones by leveraging on existing libraries.

Scalability is part of the core of the system. Hence from version 1 to current version, these fundamentals pay dividends whereby the system can be further developed at a faster rate and with better accuracy and daring creativity.

Stephen acknowledges that the critical success factor of Mathematica is that he was the first user, he built something which he wanted to use and help him with solving problems.

Wolfram Alpha is the new offering which computes answer out of computable knowledge. It is applicable as a generic knowledge-base system and with web interface and hence it is directly competing with search engines.

This piece of marvel has high potential of becoming the brain for the dawn of Artificial Intelligence phenomenon. It simply able to figure out answers to a given question based on the vast knowledge of computable functions.

It is amazing, it has natural language capability and it is real time.

For instance, one can simply ask ‘How many cars in Malaysia ?’

With Wolfram Alpha, Google and other search engines have become the index (table of content) of content while it is becoming the brain.

To consume the knowledge of the world, Wolfram also introduced CDF (Computable Document Format) which is a data format to make your data computable by Mathematica.

Mathematica is a computation software tool, marketed as technical computing software. It offers computation based on either natural language or the proprietary symbolic programming with application solutions for Engineering, Medicine, Finance and etc. One can use either the proprietary symbolic programming or C language for programming in Mathematica.

Just think of Mathematica as a generic software for solving problems.

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