Stephen Wolfram

founder and CEO, Wolfram Research

Stephen is the creator of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha and the Wolfram Language; the author of A New Kind of Science; and the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research. Over the course of nearly four decades, he has been a pioneer in the development and application of computational thinking, and has been responsible for many discoveries, inventions and innovations in science, technology and business.

Stephen published his first scientific paper at the age of 15, and had received his PhD in theoretical physics from Caltech by the age of 20. Wolfram’s early scientific work was mainly in high-energy physics, quantum field theory and cosmology, and included several now-classic results. Having started to use computers in 1973, Wolfram rapidly became a leader in the emerging field of scientific computing, and in 1979 he began the construction of SMP—the first modern computer algebra system—which he released commercially in 1981.

In recognition of his early work in physics and computing, Wolfram became in 1981 the youngest recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Late in 1981 Wolfram then set out on an ambitious new direction in science aimed at understanding the origins of complexity in nature. Through the mid-1980s, Wolfram continued his work on complexity, discovering a number of fundamental connections between computation and nature, and inventing such concepts as computational irreducibility. Wolfram’s work led to a wide range of applications—and provided the main scientific foundations for such initiatives as complexity theory and artificial life. Following his scientific work on complex systems research, in 1986 Wolfram founded the first journal in the field, Complex Systems, and its first research center. Then, after a highly successful career in academia—first at Caltech, then at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and finally as Professor of Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Illinois—Wolfram launched Wolfram Research.

Wolfram began the development of Mathematica in late 1986. The first version of Mathematica was released on June 23, 1988, and was immediately hailed as a major advance in computing. In the years that followed, the popularity of Mathematica grew rapidly, and Wolfram Research became established as a world leader in the software industry, widely recognized for excellence in both technology and business.

After more than ten years of highly concentrated work, Wolfram finally described his achievements in his 1200-page book A New Kind of Science. Released on May 14, 2002, the book was widely acclaimed and immediately became a bestseller. Its publication has been seen as initiating a paradigm shift of historic importance in science, with new implications emerging every year.

Building on Mathematica and the ideas of A New Kind of Science, Wolfram embarked on a still more ambitious project: constructing a system that would make as much of the world’s knowledge as possible immediately computable and accessible to everyone. The release of Wolfram|Alpha in May 2009 was widely regarded as a historic step that has defined a new dimension for computation and artificial intelligence—and is now relied on by millions of people every day to compute answers both directly and through intelligent assistants such as Siri.