Wolfram: Developing science by computation

Stephen Wolfram is working on establishing a new kind of science based on the hypothesis that all of nature, all scientific processes are working from a set of computational rules. The basic building blocks are cellular automata and they can be described by computer programs.

He thinks we need these computer programs to describe the processes in nature, mathematics is not enough. Nature works from computational rules that are already there, and our task is to find these programs that often are very complex.

So he implies that we need to look at science in a new way.

Stephen Wolfram has made an Apple App Wolfram Alpha that can compute or give answers to your questions. This is based on data we have already, data that has been collected, controlled, made coherent, useful – and the mass of data is not to big to do that. The ambition is to collect the world’s data into a well functioning set that has practical use. Search engines help you find data, Wolfram Alpha is working on making it computable. This is a work in progress: Finding more data, checking and coding it, allowing more and more questions to be answered.

He has also made Mathematica which is a popular program for engineers, scientists for calculation, presentation of their work.

He runs a company of about 500 people.

His main challenge now is developing a new kind of science. His thesis is that nature can best be explained using computer programs – he wants to build a new kind of science NKS.

The basic building blocks are cellular automata. They are hugely varied, but can show great complexity, and the universe and the processes taking place there are the results of structures of simple computations. There are a set of simple rules at the bottom of it all, and nature is a sampler of what is already there.

If this is right it will change the sciences, even make a new science: a proper life science.

The practical use has already been shown through Wolfram Alpha and Mathematica.

So searching the computational universe you find the answers via algorithms that are already there. Algoritms and programs are the mainstay of our future, and the job is to find out how to put this together in a new way never seen before.

Schools will be about this too – finding, creating, putting together programs and algorithms that can be put to use.

So what do you want to do, what do you want to know? Go find the data, the programs, the algorithms that will help you. Science will change, business will change.

A new Pythagoras, a new Newton? Maybe – but the thinking is hugely interesting.

So it will be programs also instead of just mathematics. Simple programs often show complex behaviour. This implies a radical rethinking of how processes in nature and elsewhere work: Nature can produce seemingly complex creations effortlessly based on simple programs.

So if Stephen Wolfram is right: Computation is our future – the basis for all developments.

See Wikipedia about cellullar automata

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