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Computational Knowledge With Stephen Wolfram

You have probably heard of Wolfram and their infamous founder, , without knowing exactly what they offer. I would guess that many people’s interaction with the company is through , possibly via Siri, but their technologies go further and deeper.

I recently interviewed Stephen at the Collision conference and thought it was a good time to dig more into their suite of tools.

The Wolfram Language

At the core of all the products is the Wolfram language, and the ultimate getting started guide is written by Stephen himself.

The language claims a unique place, calling itself ‘knowledge-based,’ in that the language starts with a body of data sets and knowledge that you don’t have to educate it to learn. This means that the language is optimized for applications focused on questions and answers to those questions, with the answers taking the form of alphanumerical strings, but also includes images, media, and charts.

A lot of your interactions with the Wolfram language can happen in a ‘,’ similar in concept and function to and , but the Wolfram technology predates both of them, as Stephen somewhat bitterly states in the interview above.

The language lets you use everything from mathematical syntax to familiar syntax from other programming languages and a surprising amount of English-esque syntax, even though sometimes it’s fiddly figuring out what combination of words achieve the answer you want.

You’re not restricted to the question and answer structure, using the Manipulate function you can add interactive elements that help you see the effect on outputs.

And there’s more, including string, image, and sound manipulation, the screenshot below is also a great way to show that you can drag outputs from one place to another.

Or, here’s one of my favorite examples to generate a word cloud from an external input.

At this point, I’m up to page 70 of a 300+ page book, the Wolfram language is thorough and deep, to dig further than the book I recommend you look at the .

Next is , built on top of the language, an online and desktop IDE of sorts that you use the language with. Similar is the that I think is part of Wolfram|One, and also includes deployment tools, API providers, and testing features. Finally, there’s the , and again, I’m not sure how it differs from Wolfram|One, but it looks like it’s the product name for the notebooks mentioned above.

was the first Wolfram tool, and has perhaps one of the longest shelf lives of any still-in-production tool, with a 30-year history. It’s a packaged subset of the language available online and desktops, optimized for educators, students and mathematicians to work on their problems. The looks like a different tool, aimed at financial professionals working on tasks such as pricing and risk analysis. There’s no public trial available, so I wasn’t able to garner much detail. again takes the language and adds expandable modeling libraries for simulating real-world physical objects. Finally is the forthcoming , which, while it is a little late to the party, could be a valuable tool in a growing field, built by a company that has a long history in visualizing data.

WolframAlpha

With its own product category, is an online tool that lets you use the Wolfram language by typing queries into a familiar search box. With , you can upload your data and create a complex, visual knowledge base of your important information. For all the developers reading this, for baking computational knowledge into your applications. Alpha has , and, curiously, a , useful for educators and the creators of intellectual pub quizzes.

It’s All in a Name

While I’m not sure if I will ever personally needed any of the Wolfram suite of products, experimenting with them and interviewing Stephen was a fascinating insight into tools with a long, well-planned history and a unique way of looking at design and user experience. Have any of you used a Wolfram product or tool? What did you use it for and what were your experiences?

Originally published at .

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Chris Chinchilla

I explain cool tech to the World. I am a Technical Writer and blogger. I have crazy projects in progress and will speak to anyone who listens.