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Adventures of a Computational Explorer

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In this lively book of essays, Stephen Wolfram takes the reader along on some of his most surprising and engaging intellectual adventures in science, technology, artificial intelligence and language design.


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In this lively book of essays, Stephen Wolfram takes the reader along on some of his most surprising and engaging intellectual adventures in science, technology, artificial intelligence and language design.

30 review for Adventures of a Computational Explorer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Tortoiseshell Ray-Bans: "Adventures of a Computational Explorer" by Stephen Wolfram “’You work hard...but what do you do for fun?’ people will ask me. Well, the fact is that I’ve tried to set up my life so that the things I work on are things I find fun. [... ] Sometimes I work on things that just come up, and that for one reason or another I find interesting and fun. [...] It [ the paradigm for thinking] all centers around the idea of If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Tortoiseshell Ray-Bans: "Adventures of a Computational Explorer" by Stephen Wolfram “’You work hard...but what do you do for fun?’ people will ask me. Well, the fact is that I’ve tried to set up my life so that the things I work on are things I find fun. [... ] Sometimes I work on things that just come up, and that for one reason or another I find interesting and fun. [...] It [ the paradigm for thinking] all centers around the idea of computation, and the generality of abstraction to which it leads. Whether I’m thinking about science, or technology, or philosophy, or art, the computational paradigm provides both an overall framework and specific facts that inform my thinking. [...] I often urge people to ‘keep their thinking apparatus engaged’ even when they’re faced with issues that don’t specifically seem to be in their domains of expertise.” In “Adventures of a Computational Explorer” by Stephen Wolfram “The real payoff comes not from doing well in the class, but from internalizing that way of thinking or that knowledge so it becomes part of you.” In “Adventures of a Computational Explorer” by Stephen Wolfram What do “Arrival”, “Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems”, TCE (Theory of Computational Equivalence), Theory of Computational Irreducibility (TCI), AI, Coding, ..., Physics (e.g., Quantum Mechanics], and Computer Science have in common? Stephen Wolfram. Continues elsewhere.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    Some people - I think of J.R.R. Tolkien, Garry Kasparov and Simone de Beauvoir - just know at once what they want to do and then spend the rest of their lives doing it. Stephen Wolfram is one of these lucky few. By the age of ten, he'd got it figured out. He was interested in everything, and he was going to use computers to help him satisfy his curiosity. He read books on physics and mathematics, acquired software skills, and found that algebraic manipulation packages could enhance his Some people - I think of J.R.R. Tolkien, Garry Kasparov and Simone de Beauvoir - just know at once what they want to do and then spend the rest of their lives doing it. Stephen Wolfram is one of these lucky few. By the age of ten, he'd got it figured out. He was interested in everything, and he was going to use computers to help him satisfy his curiosity. He read books on physics and mathematics, acquired software skills, and found that algebraic manipulation packages could enhance his precocious abilities as a mathematical physicist. He got his PhD when he was 21. Then he logically followed up on his plan and started developing better math software. It became the Mathematica platform, which has grown to encompass not just math, but pretty much anything that can be expressed in computational form: math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science (of course), machine learning, language processing. It connects to the internet, the cloud, 3D printers and more. Wolfram's little startup has grown into a company that employs nearly a thousand people, but unlike many tech CEOs he has not retreated into the business and strategy side. He is totally hands-on; the company and the core software it develops are an extension of himself. He is a kind of elderly warrior monk of computation, equally happy talking about the most rarified philosophical aspects of the subject (he claims to hate philosophy: Dr Wolfram, you're not fooling anyone) or getting his hands dirty with the nittiest, grittiest details. He logs everything he does in minute detail, down to individual keystrokes, and shows you graphics summarising how much he types, how many mails he sends and receives, how much time he spends on the phone. He treats himself as part of the machine he has built and dispassionately explains how he has worked to optimise his performance. He has become one with the Tao of Computation, the way that Tolkien became one with the Tao of Language, and here he tells you in simple, straightforward prose what that's like. It's incredibly impressive and more than a little scary; I couldn't put the book down. If you're also a geek who's interested in science and mathematics, I predict you're going to feel the same way.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    I have a TON to say about Stephen Wolfram, but for the sake of reviewing, I'll highlight. :) I'm a fanboy. I mean, back in the day when I first saw Wolfram Alpha get released, I practically pooped myself. An all-round science tool that aimed to combine every known function in the world in one easy search bar that you can use real language with? I downloaded the hell out of it and squeed with joy that there were people like this in the world that would make things like this. Everything that can be I have a TON to say about Stephen Wolfram, but for the sake of reviewing, I'll highlight. :) I'm a fanboy. I mean, back in the day when I first saw Wolfram Alpha get released, I practically pooped myself. An all-round science tool that aimed to combine every known function in the world in one easy search bar that you can use real language with? I downloaded the hell out of it and squeed with joy that there were people like this in the world that would make things like this. Everything that can be computed, in ONE PLACE. As much knowledge as possible, as broadly applicable as possible, available to everyone. I mean, sure, it's bound to be buggy and a constant work in progress, but this is a pure repository of knowledge, man, and IT'S FREE. :) And it's not just about data, but about how to calculate reality. :) Yay! Okay, peeps, I know this seems really geeky and all, and I agree. But Stephen Wolfram is a real-life hero. He's putting his prodigious mind into the problem of Everything. Language, Rosetta Stones for aliens, repositories of all knowledge, and working out the problems inherent in his Theory of Computational Equivalence and the Theory of Computational Irreducibility. (Put simply, nature does the same thing as well and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, writ large.) It also means he's doing all the heavy lifting for an AI that will rule the physical world. But fortunately, he's also been a real-life SF example of someone who has recorded and programmed, in the Wolfram programming language, every instant of his life, correspondence and thought process, including every keystroke he's ever made, every meeting he's ever been in, and he's now in a very unique position to be uploaded directly into the web, maintaining everything he is and every decision he's made, ready to combat said AI. :) I joke, sure, but the reality of such a monumental undertaking is REAL. This book is an autobiography of sorts and he loves to share. I kinda wondered where he was going with a lot of it, but then I came up with my theory and so narrative consistency is resolved. :) Fun fact! All those equations in the movie Arrival? Thank Stephen Wolfram's son. :) Both were consultants to make the math real. :) No BS. :) That's REAL STUFF, man! :)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mark Lawrence

    This is a hard one to rate. Wolfram is clearly an extraordinarily clever man who has done a fair bit of original thinking. The book itself is a collection of articles, presentations, talks etc from the last ten years or so. Because they weren't intended as chapters of a book this means that there is no sense of a narrative or of constructing a point. Additionally it means that there is a fair bit of overlap and the repetition can irk. It should be noted that I have both worked as a researcher in This is a hard one to rate. Wolfram is clearly an extraordinarily clever man who has done a fair bit of original thinking. The book itself is a collection of articles, presentations, talks etc from the last ten years or so. Because they weren't intended as chapters of a book this means that there is no sense of a narrative or of constructing a point. Additionally it means that there is a fair bit of overlap and the repetition can irk. It should be noted that I have both worked as a researcher in many areas falling under the umbrella term "AI", and I used Mathmatica for many years. So that provides some context for my comments. I am not, however, particularly enthusiastic about coding. One gripe about the book is the miniscule size of most of the figures, so that any writing within them is nearly impossible to read. I felt that the author was imagining we would see them in a larger format in colour - perhaps like those on the power point presentations accompanying the talks they originally came from. Another gripe is that barely a page goes past without some exhortation of the merits and wonders of Mathmatica &/or Wolfram/Alpha &/or The Wolfram Language. In the originals each of the chapters was a stand alone presentation and Wolfram clearly wanted to get his plug in. But en masse they constitute a relentless assault. A final (?) gripe is that a number of the chapters were simply rather dull (to me, obviously - another reader might be fascinated). I was not, for example, overly interested in the process of naming Mathmatica functions, or the mechanics of a product design meeting. Nor was I fascinated by the mass analysis of 30 years worth of data about Wolfram's life - seemingly endless charts breaking down his email activity on an hourly basis and the distribution of his 100 million keystrokes etc. And given that I am often teased for being a numbers guy and making charts of everything … I'm thinking that other readers might be even less engaged by these sections than I was. This all sounds rather damning and it shouldn't be taken that way, because there was also quite a lot of very interesting stuff. This is stuff that I imagine is presented far more fulsomely in his more famous book A New Kind of Science which I have not read but now want to. It's his ideas about computational irreducibility and computational equivalence combined with an appeal to a more fundamental and simple set of rules underlying physics which are of most interest to me. Those ideas were touched on multiple times but lacking any of the detail that might make them convincing. So, all in all, it's a book that entertained me in parts, and certainly intrigued me. It wanders through a great deal of territory from communicating with aliens to designing computer languages to AI to geometry... and it's sprinkled with quite interesting anecdotes. I think rather than me recommending or not recommending that you read it you should judge for yourself whether the kind of things I've mentioned float your boat. As for me, I'm definitely going to give A New Kind Of Science a read one day. Join my 3-emails-a-year newsletter #prizes .

  5. 5 out of 5

    Santiago Ortiz

    This is a book from Steve about Steve. You have to be very interested in Wolfram the company, its software, its vision, and the man itself, to be able to fully enjoy the majority of this book. Some of the articles of this compendium bare a more universal interest, because in a way, Wolfram's search, what he've done with his life and research, could be generalizable. So, for instance, his neurotical endevaor of storing personal information, and all his thinking about classifying and analyzing This is a book from Steve about Steve. You have to be very interested in Wolfram the company, its software, its vision, and the man itself, to be able to fully enjoy the majority of this book. Some of the articles of this compendium bare a more universal interest, because in a way, Wolfram's search, what he've done with his life and research, could be generalizable. So, for instance, his neurotical endevaor of storing personal information, and all his thinking about classifying and analyzing this information, could (I believe will) become the new normal for millions of people.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    Stephen Wolfram, the man behind the scientist's mathematical tool of choice, Mathematica, plus a whole host of other software products, including the uncanny Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine, is undoubtedly a genius of the first order. In this book, we get an uncensored excursion into the mind of genius - which is, without doubt, a fascinating prospect. The book consists of a collection of essays and speeches that Wolfram has produced over the last ten to fifteen years, covering an eclectic range Stephen Wolfram, the man behind the scientist's mathematical tool of choice, Mathematica, plus a whole host of other software products, including the uncanny Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine, is undoubtedly a genius of the first order. In this book, we get an uncensored excursion into the mind of genius - which is, without doubt, a fascinating prospect. The book consists of a collection of essays and speeches that Wolfram has produced over the last ten to fifteen years, covering an eclectic range of topics. Like all such collections, the result is something that lacks the coherence of a book with a narrative that runs through it, inevitably introducing a degree of repetition and a mix of interesting and not-so-interesting topics - but there's likely to be something to catch the attention anyone who is into computing or mathematics. One of the most interesting pieces is the opening one, where Wolfram describes being a consultant on the SF movie Arrival. He seems to have had a whole host of roles, from computing work with his son to producing a whiteboard full of 'real physics' to be shown in the background of a scene. This last item is familiarly bitter-sweet to anyone who has fallen for the siren song of helping out moviemakers, or TV and radio producers. Months after his contribution, Wolfram received an urgent request to provide a whiteboard for star Amy Adams to stand in front of. Wolfram clearly put a huge amount of thought into this, and explains in the book what the various elements on the board are about. But then we're told 'In the end, the whiteboard got re-written again for the final movie' - probably for no good reason. Other pieces that particularly interested me included Wolfram's thoughts on attempts to communicate information to aliens, his efforts in creating algorithmic music (started because he wanted a unique ringtone on his phone), and one of several ventures into one of his favourite topics, cellular automata (think 'game of Life' if this means nothing to you) inspired by the decoration on Cambridge North railway station. We also pick up quite a lot on Wolfram's past - this book would be an absolute goldmine for a Wolfram biographer. I must admit, I didn't even realise he was English rather than American, and his precocious journey through and out of academia is fascinating. Having said that, one or two autobiographical details of his privileged upbringing may raise an eyebrow. He comments 'Following British tradition I went to a so-called public school' (Eton). I'm not sure that something less than seven per cent of the population do could be called British tradition. I'll be honest, I did find some of the essays boring. There was a lot about software development - I've worked in the field, but I don't really want to read about it for entertainment. And most bizarrely of all we get 48 pages detailing exactly how he organises his life, down to the way he arranges his files. Sometimes, also, it did feel very like promotional literature. It's unusual to go more than a couple of pages without a mention of a Wolfram product. And there's very heavy use made of something he calls the 'Principle of Computational Equivalence', which is brandished like a magic wand, but never justified. In the end, the book does give genuine insights into the workings of a remarkable mind and an unusual individual. It's not all highly readable, but there is interesting material in here, making it well worth a peruse.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Halfway through this book, I was thinking it would be 3-stars, which for me is a typical rating. But by the end, it was 4-stars, which is well above average for me. Here is the story of why. Stephen Wolfram is best known as the CEO of Wolfram, Inc, which makes software for scientific and mathematical analysis. Wolfram might object to that characterization as too narrow, which relates to the biggest problem with this book: it's I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Halfway through this book, I was thinking it would be 3-stars, which for me is a typical rating. But by the end, it was 4-stars, which is well above average for me. Here is the story of why. Stephen Wolfram is best known as the CEO of Wolfram, Inc, which makes software for scientific and mathematical analysis. Wolfram might object to that characterization as too narrow, which relates to the biggest problem with this book: it's written by a CEO. CEO's, whether by the nature of their job or due to a selection effect or most likely due to a combination of the two, are untiring boosters. Their company is great, their company does amazing things, all the people that work at their company are awesome, their products are leading edge and they have been an innovator and leader in this space (whatever space that is). It gets a bit like the character "Topper" from Dilbert. The fact that Wolfram is, in spite of being a CEO, at all readable puts him way above average for his peer group. But, you can still see some evidence of this boosterism in his writing. CEO's also have a lot of authority in their day job, and this might clash a bit with the need to allow someone else to edit their work. For example, Wolfram's previous book, "A New Kind Of Science", was over 1000 pages long, and partly as a result ranks up there with Stephen Hawking's "Brief History of Time" on the list of books which were bought way more often than finished. One example of this in the current work, is his repeated use of the phrase, "And yes, [x]". It starts to occur so often that it becomes distracting. An editor (of someone who wasn't their boss) might have done something about this. However, there are plenty of positives to outweigh these factors. One is that Wolfram is obviously both a bright guy, and also one who is willing to think and say (and write) thoughts that have not been heard before. While you may or may not agree, for example, that his Principle of Computational Equivalence is a paradigm shift for science, it is certainly a useful and new concept to have in one's mental toolbox. I read this book a chapter at a time, usually in the coffeeshop in the morning before starting work. This allowed my subconscious to ruminate on each chapter for a day before sprinting on to the next. Lots of people describe books they really like as "a pageturner", but I prefer books which are so dense with ideas and food for thought, that you do better to digest each piece thoroughly before moving on. I like books that make me a tiny bit smarter, by giving me more concepts to use and patterns that I can recognize in whatever problems I am grappling with in my job and life. Wolfram shares a goodly number of useful ones here, and it was awfully decent of him to do so. I also applaud his copious use of graphics. Charts, diagrams, pictures, screenshots, and more charts. When used well, visuals and text shed light on each other so that they are more than the sum of their parts, and Wolfram makes good use of visuals in this book. Some of them, it should be mentioned, were clearly made originally in color, and printed here in grayscale, but in the great majority of cases this was not a big issue. One favorite chapter of mine was the one in which he takes a look at decades of data on his personal life, such as what he has typed, emailed, how his heartrate has varied, etc. He is mildly surprised to discover that 7% of all his keystrokes are the backspace key. He learns that his heartrate is significantly lower when outside, even after taking into account differences in activity level (e.g. comparing taking a walk outside to walking on a treadmill inside). This caused him to search for ways to do his (computer-bound) work outside, preferably while walking, a very computer-programmer kind of reaction to discovering this about himself. It is interesting to see both the numbers-and-data oriented side of him, and the human-with-a-life side, such as for example when he decides he is willing to travel to give talks in person, once his kids got old enough to enjoy going with him. Also, seeing a clear stripe of "no meeting time" in his personal schedule, across decades, that corresponds to dinner with family, is a nice touch. I'm not sure if I agree that naming functions is like poetry, although I grant his basic point that it should be given a great deal of thought, and you have to make each syllable count for a lot. I do agree with his point that programming, especially in the design phase, is more or less applied philosophy, and this is not only because I have thought the same thing myself. There aren't many people who are programmers, who write about programming for an audience of non-programmers, and it is to Wolfram's credit that he does so. For something that is becoming more and more influential over the rest of society, how programming (and programmers) work is not very well understood by the rest of society. I am unlikely to spend much time watching the livestreaming of company meetings which he has started doing, but it is an astonishing level of transparency that would be nice to see emulated. Imagine what the impact would be if Google or Facebook or Amazon were as transparent about what they are doing, and how and why. Really, that's the final factor that pushed this up to 4 stars, and it comes back to the fact that he's a CEO, but this time as a positive. The CEO's of software/technology companies have become the objects of revulsion, fascination, speculation, and fear in the last decade, largely because of the fact that software has a bigger and bigger impact on people's lives, yet most people have not only no control over it but also little understanding of it, to even be able to predict where technology is going. Wolfram is doing more than any other living tech CEO I can think of, to try to communicate how software development works, and what he is actually trying to achieve with it. It would be good for our society, and perhaps for our tech behemoths as well, if they followed his example.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    The basic message of both Stephen Wolfram’s new book and his life is that somehow, everything can be reduced to computation. This levels the playing field, gives researchers a clear path to follow, and in very many ways, is proving not only true, but advantageous. Adventures of a Computational Explorer is the Stephen Wolfram story, as seen through his work and discoveries. Fortunately, he loves to share. For example, his knowledge engine, Wolfram Alpha’s “goal is to take as much knowledge about The basic message of both Stephen Wolfram’s new book and his life is that somehow, everything can be reduced to computation. This levels the playing field, gives researchers a clear path to follow, and in very many ways, is proving not only true, but advantageous. Adventures of a Computational Explorer is the Stephen Wolfram story, as seen through his work and discoveries. Fortunately, he loves to share. For example, his knowledge engine, Wolfram Alpha’s “goal is to take as much knowledge about the world as possible, and make it computable, then to be able to answer questions as expertly as possible about it.” It is a free online service tapping the knowledge of the world. A favorite example of its power is “What is flying overhead right now?” He has learned to find ways to make theories applicable in far broader ways. “What I’ve come to realize … is that the same intellectual thoughts processes can be applied not just to what one thinks of as science, but to pretty much anything.” The result is creative thinking in science fiction, music, graphic design, search, analytics and productivity. For starters. Wolfram lives in a meta universe somewhere above ours. He goes big. He is all about the universe of possible theories on any topic: the universe of possible languages for example, and even the universe of possible universes. His two main theories, from which everything he does derives are the Theory of Computational Equivalence and the Theory of Computational Irreducibility. The only thing missing is the single, simple, underlying theory of all physics, he says. He’s hoping we come up with that soon. This is a man who has collected every spec of data on himself since 1980. It includes GPS location and steps, phone calls inbound and out, emails inbound (2.3 million) and out, every keystroke he’s ever made (7% are backspaces), every meeting he’s been involved in, onset time and length of phone calls… In total, he proudly claims to have 1.7 million files on himself. Of the 230,000 pieces of paper, most have been scanned and OCR’d, with the OCR text overlaying the image. When he goes to events, he wears a small camera above his ID badge. It takes a photo every 30 seconds, so he can remember everyone he met, everything he saw, and if they didn’t exchange cards, the name on the other person’s badge. “It won’t be long before it’s clear how incredibly useful it all is – and everyone will be doing it, and wondering how they could have ever gotten by before,” he says. There are light moments too. On the launch date of Wolfram Alpha, the knowledge engine, someone asked about the world’s fastest bird, and the system replied: “A frozen chicken will reach 200 mph if you drop it from a plane.” There is a 40-page chapter explaining Spikey, the Wolfram logo. It is a rhombic hexecontahedron, if that helps. It has 60 sides, all of which are rhomboids in the golden ratio 1.618:1, making them golden rhombuses. Wolfram and his employees went through endless pages of examples they generated, looking for something unique, appealing and dramatic. For years, engineers worked on variations and refinements, and together they determined the ideal version, making it their unique logo. Then, they discovered it is called the giramundo and has been sewn together by women in Brazil for hundreds of years. The amount of effort that went into it is staggering, but it is no different than anything else at Wolfram. The name for the Wolfram computer language took three decades to determine. They examined how human languages get names, how computer languages get names, how words sound and feel, what images and associations they raise, how long they are, and on and on. Finding nothing that fit the bill, they settled on The Wolfram Language. After 32 years of research and meetings. Wolfram the CEO is just as different a breed. His meetings are all livestreamed – publicly. Anyone can chime in, and dedicated employees will feed appropriate public comments to the participants for consideration. This is of course a brilliant tactic. It co-opts minds worldwide at no charge. And since Wolfram is one of the very few large corporations that really has nothing to hide, the light of day is not an issue. Much of the company’s great works become free websites, from Wolfram Alpha to Wolfram Tones, which lets composers generate new music themes through computational rules. The company employs 800 very bright people around the world, and he is in constant touch through conference calls and e-mail. He doesn’t like video conferences because everyone should be able to multitask without seeming to not be paying full attention to the boss. Wolfram is the place you want to work. It all amounts to a strange sort of autobiography. Wolfram describes how he thinks, how he works, and how he plays. His work is his play. It’s all he does, and he does it from home, visiting his office a few times a year. In the book, he devotes nearly 50 pages in one chapter to describe the infrastructure he has built for his own (prodigious) productivity. This goes as far as calculating the optimum speed on a treadmill so that no one will know he’s on a treadmill, as well as for optimum control of his laptop and mouse while on it. He keeps a small collection of ready-packed plastic bags filled for different functions, such as Trade Show or Office. Ready to grab and go. His desk computer has two screens, one private and one public that everyone can see on the livestreamed calls. In 400+ pages, his children are only mentioned insofar as they have occasionally contributed to his work. His wife is never named. It’s all about optimizing his personal productivity every waking minute. It’s a remarkable book on a remarkable style, but it’s not a slam dunk. Wolfram simply repurposed articles and posts without editing. This means you get sentences that begin with “Just last week I …” which only make sense if you look up the date of the post under the title. He also assumes a fairly high level of knowledge, particularly about acronyms. You’re supposed to know what IUPAC and KVM stand for, because he won’t explain them. The book is delightfully filled with images. Many are screenshots that show what he describes in the text above them. But they are so small you must have a magnifying glass handy or you won’t see what he’s writing about, making the whole effort pointless. All the intricate graphics they generated and the words on the webpages are wasted. I hope the final version has the images in color, because my review copy was pure monochrome, useless when he indicates the gold bar means this and the brown bar means that. Interestingly, there are no links to online services or references for what he writes. And nothing in the book credits meetings or collaborations or even inspirations from other scientists (though a couple times he mentions employees who have dug deep). It’ all Wolfram all the time. These quibbles aside, Adventures of a Computational Explorer is unlike any other autobiography, and a noteworthy addition to the canon. David Wineberg

  9. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    Adventures of a Computational Explorer, a compilation of essays, blog posts and speeches, is great reading as a stand-alone book, and it also rewards the attention of those who come to it from Stephen Wolfram 's earlier A New Kind of Science and/or Idea Makers: Personal Perspectives on the Lives & Ideas of Some Notable People . For anyone who watched all three episodes of the Netflix documentary Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates and kept tuning in, this compilation from Stephen Adventures of a Computational Explorer, a compilation of essays, blog posts and speeches, is great reading as a stand-alone book, and it also rewards the attention of those who come to it from Stephen Wolfram 's earlier A New Kind of Science and/or Idea Makers: Personal Perspectives on the Lives & Ideas of Some Notable People . For anyone who watched all three episodes of the Netflix documentary Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates and kept tuning in, this compilation from Stephen Wolfram dares to go a couple steps further. It's idiosyncratically personal. The book's got its own sense of humor even though the installments that make it up cover several years. Plus, Wolfram's curiosity and his problem-solving-mind together make reading these memoirs a lot of fun. Some chapters, like the one on personal productivity, give the reader a glimpse of the "man behind the computation". From an illustrated look at Wolfram's filing solution [spoiler: yes, it's like a mailbox slot], to a way to take a walk in the woods with your laptop. On Wolfram's blog (writings.stephenwolfram.com) you can get a taste of how fun it is to think inventively reading his companion post Seeking the Productive Life on which the chapter is based . There you'll see him out on the trails getting in his steps with a cigarette-girl style walking desk, and keeping up with the world with his laptop perched on a stadium hawking tray-type apparatus at the same time . Wolfram shares with the reader the notion that " the same intellectual thought processes can be applied not just to what one thinks of as science, but to pretty much anything. And for me there’s tremendous satisfaction in seeing how this works out." Indeed! And, Adventures of a Computational Explorer lets the armchair traveler have a front row seat . If you're trying to decide which edition, especially for gift-giving, the illustrations are part of the information AND part of the fun with this book. I found them to be easier on the eye in the print edition than the e-book on my Oasis but your mileage may differ. 4.5 big stars for the thoughtful fun. -.5 star bcs some of the material upcycled from the blog into the compilation might have been brought more up-to-date and there's no index which, given Wolfram's wide ranging activities, would have been the icing on the cake. I'm giving it a Great on the natometer anyway! I would like to thank NetGalley & Stephen Wolfram, LLC for providing an e-copy & reviewer's print copy for use in the preparation of an honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leonardo

    I am a casual user of WolframAlpha, so when I saw this title I thought it would be an interesting way to learn about how it was created, used and who the people behind it were. The content turned out to be a bit of a rabbit hole however. I do believe that authors should attempt to cater to the audience they are trying to connect to. However, I also think that readers have a responsibility to pursue content that is within the scope of what they are looking for and can realistically process. I I am a casual user of WolframAlpha, so when I saw this title I thought it would be an interesting way to learn about how it was created, used and who the people behind it were. The content turned out to be a bit of a rabbit hole however. I do believe that authors should attempt to cater to the audience they are trying to connect to. However, I also think that readers have a responsibility to pursue content that is within the scope of what they are looking for and can realistically process. I will therefore rate this book from the standpoint of what I suspect is the real target audience of this book, and from the view of a reader a bit more conversant with the content provided. Hence my rating of 4 stars. To truly appreciate this book, I think that you have to enjoy mathematics, computational analysis, computers and some physics, and be reasonably conversant with Wolfram Alpha, The Wolfram Language and maybe some of Mathematica. If you are that type of reader then I think you will enjoy the insights given by the author about these topics, how they were developed and used and who the writer is and how he developed all these clever tools. Stephen Wolfram is no doubt a very intelligent and insightful person. His writing style however is quite granular - again probably not an issue for the right audience. The book is really a collection of what appear to be articles or blog posts. As such, one of the things I would probably have suggested as a way to maybe facilitate understanding, is attempting to organize the material into themes or a progression of ideas. The way it is currently set up, it comes across as a stream of consciousness on a variety of topics that are connected only by computational analysis and the Wolfram ecosystem. The content is not even laid out in a chronological sequence. The actual topics vary in engaging the reader. Once again the type of reader will react differently. For example, I found the section on consulting for the movie Arrival and communicating with aliens interesting because it was written in a more non-technical manner. However, I found the section on the corporate Wolfram logo (Spikey) so granular that I honestly skipped about half of it. I am sure it was a lot of work, was very meaningful to those that worked on it, and probably to mathematicians and programers. Just not for me. I am glad I read this book. It was interesting. Parts were very engaging for me. But it has taught me the value of researching up front what the content really entails. Pick your lanes and everyone will be happier. I may have missed the book summary that is usually found on the back side of physical books. I do not know what it says/will say, but I hope it is written in a way that allows the potential reader to evaluate what he will be reading. Thank you so much Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This collection of essays (or blog posts?) was delightful to read. Most of them had at least one fascinating bit, and none of them were long enough to get boring. Wolfram seems like a moderate to pathological narcissist, but overall that didn’t get in the way too much. There was quite a bit of redundancy throughout the book, but rather than annoy, it served to strengthen the ideas in my head. In the eARC copy I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, the This collection of essays (or blog posts?) was delightful to read. Most of them had at least one fascinating bit, and none of them were long enough to get boring. Wolfram seems like a moderate to pathological narcissist, but overall that didn’t get in the way too much. There was quite a bit of redundancy throughout the book, but rather than annoy, it served to strengthen the ideas in my head. In the eARC copy I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, the images were basically unintelligible, but I bet they’re worth checking out too.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    This collection of essays (or blog posts?) was delightful to read. Most of them had at least one fascinating bit, and none of them were long enough to get boring. Wolfram seems like a moderate to pathological narcissist, but overall that didn’t get in the way too much. There was quite a bit of redundancy throughout the book, but rather than annoy, it served to strengthen the ideas in my head. In the eARC copy I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, the This collection of essays (or blog posts?) was delightful to read. Most of them had at least one fascinating bit, and none of them were long enough to get boring. Wolfram seems like a moderate to pathological narcissist, but overall that didn’t get in the way too much. There was quite a bit of redundancy throughout the book, but rather than annoy, it served to strengthen the ideas in my head. In the eARC copy I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, the images were basically unintelligible, but I bet they’re worth checking out too.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Annarella

    This is an interesting collection of essay and thoughts about life and work written by a computer genius like Stephen Wolfram. I liked the style of writing and it gave me food for thought. Highly recommended! Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Isabella

    Adventures of a Computational Explorer is a delightful collection of essays on the life and work of Stephen Worlfram. Particularly interesting is the essay on how he contributed as a consultant to the movie Arrival.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anett Kovacs

    Adventures of a Computational Explorer by Stephen Wolfram is an immensely interesting collection of essays about the life and work of a fascinating person. Highly recommendable!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    TL;DR Stephen Wolfram’s Adventures of a Computational Explorer swings wide from a movie set to the design review process to a memoir in the form of data analytics. This collection is for anyone interested in computational sciences, AI, and fans of Mathematica. Recommended. Review Back in my undergrad days, before I transferred to an engineering school, I studied pre-engineering in the physics department of Eastern Illinois University. While there, I got a chance to help a professor with his TL;DR Stephen Wolfram’s Adventures of a Computational Explorer swings wide from a movie set to the design review process to a memoir in the form of data analytics. This collection is for anyone interested in computational sciences, AI, and fans of Mathematica. Recommended. Review Back in my undergrad days, before I transferred to an engineering school, I studied pre-engineering in the physics department of Eastern Illinois University. While there, I got a chance to help a professor with his research, which involved learning Mathematica, a technical computational software. I don’t remember any of what I learned, but it made an impact on me. It had an easy user interface with an ability to make some amazing graphs. Mathematica introduced me to 3D graphs. While waiting for the movie Arrival to release, I read an article that Stephen Wolfram was consulting on the film. I knew exactly who he was because his software made such an impact on my life despite only a few months of using it. When the opportunity to review his latest collection of essays came up, I jumped at the chance. Adventures of a Computational Explorer delivered on all my expectations. Disclaimer The publisher, Wolfram Media, provided a free copy of this ebook in exchange for an honest review. Read more reviews at my website: Primmlife. Adventures of a Computational Explorer Stephen Wolfram’s collection of essays explores scientific computing in a number of ways. The book discusses his interests with a lot of nods to the Wolfram family of products. One of my favorite essays discussed the art of naming functions. (I struggle with this when writing my own programs.) Another was a sort of memoir using personal data analysis. The essays cover a lot of ground from cellular automaton to distributing time capsule beacons around the universe to artificial intelligence. Each gives a fascinating look into Wolfram’s curiosity. The collection shows the breadth of Wolfram’s interests and the depth of his knowledge. The essays reminded me of blog posts more than narrative articles. They are dense, information packed, and worth a slow, deliberate read. The ideas come at the reader fast and in multitudes. Many of these ideas were unfamiliar to me, and I learned a ton reading this book. While we all know that science, math, and computers are huge subjects, it’s always weird to encounter areas that one is not familiar with. Because it’s by Stephen Wolfram, a number of Wolfram Research’s products grace the pages. While I didn’t keep track, I’m pretty sure there’s multiple mentions on each page. It did slow down my reading a bit as it felt like an extended commercial for Wolfram products. But I kept in mind that he’s just discussing his life’s work. Innovative Ebook There was a lot in this book that I didn’t understand; luckily for me, links litter the text. They point to the Wolfram Alpha website. While not all were helpful, I liked this feature. It slowed the flow of the text but actually sped up my reading because I didn’t have to search on my own. This has differed from a lot of the scientific reading I’ve done lately, and I appreciate the links. By adding the links, it creates a better view of the author’s intent. It allows less room for misinterpretation. This makes it easier to research more in-depth or search for alternate points of view. The Creation Process I enjoyed how Wolfram approaches his products from naming a function to design reviews. He covers the creation process from the micro to the macro when it comes to his products. Creativity is an important aspect of science, but it’s rarely discussed. What exactly does it mean to be creative as a scientist? Wolfram addresses the creative process in Adventures of a Computational Explorer. I liked learning that he is still involved in the design reviews. It shows that after all these years the passion for the product is still there. The first essay documents his time as a consultant for the movie Arrival. [Excellent movie based on the short story Story of Your Life. Both movie and short story are worth your time.] The look behind the scenes at his contributions showed his work ethic and how he creates ideas to fit an existing paradigm. The iterations between the science and the story provide a good look at Hollywood’s process. Conclusion Stephen Wolfram’s Adventures of a Computational Explorer gives insight into the creator of Mathematica and the driving force behind Wolfram Research. The essays are technical, challenging, yet interesting. Recommended for science readers. 7 out of 10!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jacqui Huntley

    First, I'm afraid that the graphics on my kindle version were awful and spoilt some of the essays - said graphics were bizarrely shaped, over-wrote the text, had illegible text/legends and mixed up colours compared with what the text implied. Sadly the Cambridge North station design was one of these that suffered. "Data Science of the Facebook World" could have been fascinating if it weren't for those screwed-up graphics. The book is an autobiography and we certainly have his point of view such First, I'm afraid that the graphics on my kindle version were awful and spoilt some of the essays - said graphics were bizarrely shaped, over-wrote the text, had illegible text/legends and mixed up colours compared with what the text implied. Sadly the Cambridge North station design was one of these that suffered. "Data Science of the Facebook World" could have been fascinating if it weren't for those screwed-up graphics. The book is an autobiography and we certainly have his point of view such that it seems very few other people really helped him at all. Some of the essays were excellent and interesting - especially the early stages of computing way back in the 80s. I well remember those days when I was a "big" user on the Cambridge University mainframe, being allowed 256k memory ("normal" users were allowed 128k). Ah, the days of ARPANET and JANET. The development of The Logo was interesting but does show that homework can be useful - how many hours could he have spent on other things if he'd chased a few Brazilian embroidery leads first? I laughed at the "Poetry of Functional Naming" - how true! "Advance of the Data Civilization.." - starts off well but then, to me, loses it with poor data which ignore all of Eastern Civilisations. These data may not change the overall effect but he does have a rather narrow minded view. Whilst it is true that the United States show activity before Independence and really takes of in the early 1900s are we surprised? It's a huge country with lots of people. However, he does not tell us what the data are, how he extracted them or anything that a scientist like me would like to see. For someone who has collected data about himself over his lifetime, almost anally it seems, there are some fun bits - how he has a treadmill set up with a keyboard and mouse so that he can walk and work and simply walk faster when he's "in" a tedious meeting. Like that one. Whether audio virtual meetings really are beneficial is doubtful to my mind as I'm not sure that you can properly concentrate upon a meeting whilst also reading emails and so on. Lots of people do it but perhaps meetings should be more focussed and relevant? .Under "My Desk Environment" I was infuriated not to find out how he avoided those piles of paper on his desk - part of an image of a man in trees with an orange something completely obliterated the text. I guess my piles might remain for a while. I totally agree with a pen and paper in the pocket (in my case pencil and small note-book) rather than totally relying upon technology.. His ponderings about filing struck all too real a note although the thought of scanning all of the old paperwork and putting into a digital database seems a) a waste of time and/or money and b) irrelevant. Why should I ever need to know what my 11 year old self wrote in Geography or Maths. Assuming his data survive long-term than I suppose people way in the future might get an idea of 1970s to whenever society. After all, archaeologists only have a very few pieces of jigsaw for their interpretations (2 stones in a line are two stones in a line but three stones in a line are a wall sort of thing). I sympathised with his having 5100 books arrive in scrambled order after a move and taking three days to sort. Only three days? I wish. We had something similar when we moved although the removals men grabbed blocks then filled around with odds and sods in the packing crates. Never computerised a catalogue of them, another missed aspiration, but we went for groupings by subject (with some "discussion") and then by author - sort of as some books were too big for a shelf and we wanted to make best use of shelving. I so sympathise with the red box of computer bits on p 263 (even if stretched and squeezed) - I have several under my desk at the moment, they may just come in handy sometime! He admits that he was precocious but never thought about it as such and that leads to what is, to my mind, one of the best paragraphs in the book "For me, at least, precociousness was a huge win. Because it allowed me to launch into adult life early - before whatever enthusiasm and originality I had was ground down by years of structured education". If more people could have the confidence or precociousness to retain their child self's enthusiasm for any subject society would be all the better for it. Overall and interesting if quirky read about the life of a man hypnotised by data collection, analysis and development. Thanks to NetGalley and Wolfram Media for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review and apologies for the long review, not my norm!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    This book is a collection of essays, journal pieces, and speeches that Stephen Wolfram has written over the past several decades. It functions as a memoir and an autobiography of his life and what has motivated him to start and continue his work of applying computational principles to every conceivable field. It is a fascinating window into the thought processes one of the brilliant minds of our time. Although the book is meant to be written for a general audience, some of the concepts and This book is a collection of essays, journal pieces, and speeches that Stephen Wolfram has written over the past several decades. It functions as a memoir and an autobiography of his life and what has motivated him to start and continue his work of applying computational principles to every conceivable field. It is a fascinating window into the thought processes one of the brilliant minds of our time. Although the book is meant to be written for a general audience, some of the concepts and technical details could be difficult to follow. What helped was that (at least in my review e-book) numerous hyperlinks were provided that would open up a browser to a relevant site where I could get more details about the subject matter. At times I felt that the writing was repetitive and tedious, especially with the near constant references back to Stephen’s prior and ongoing projects. To me, it felt like almost reading a sales and marketing copy of his offerings. Perhaps that is what happens when individual writing pieces spanning many years are all collected verbatim into one place. If the reader can get past that, the book offers very interesting insights into how the practice of computation intersects with so much of even daily life. For example, the opening chapter of the book relates how Stephen’s computation algorithms ended up in the movie Arrival. But computation doesn’t just end with mathematics or the “hard” sciences. It goes into linguistics, sociology, anthropology, music, art, and pretty much every part of what we know as this universe. There is a good deal of history in this book about computation, programming, and software development in the latter 20th century up to the present day. Those who have been a part of that history (as I have been) might find resonance with the vignettes found within these pages. The takeaway of this book for me is the importance of multidisciplinary work and approach. Solutions to difficult life and world problems aren’t often found in a single disciple, but across disciplines and at their intersections. In the final entry in this book, Stephen addresses high school graduates and speaks about how there are centuries of experience in educating people in narrow fields. What is important isn’t always specific knowledge in a field, but general approaches. Computational methods and tools can be one of them. But I believe that in the end, it is the person who knows how to utilize approaches and tools from a wide variety of fields and disciplines who will find the most success. That is the message I received from this book. (Review based on publisher supplied ARC.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    As somebody who considers herself a creative thinker, Adventures of a Computational Explorer was an incredible read. Composed of interesting, insightful, and intellect challenging ideas written in essay form. I was absolutely captivated by the range of ideas introduced, the process of computational thinking, and AI ethics. Where Liebniz was two centuries or more too early with his concept of a universal language, Stephen Wolfram is right on time. There is a lot about this book I found to be very As somebody who considers herself a creative thinker, Adventures of a Computational Explorer was an incredible read. Composed of interesting, insightful, and intellect challenging ideas written in essay form. I was absolutely captivated by the range of ideas introduced, the process of computational thinking, and AI ethics. Where Liebniz was two centuries or more too early with his concept of a universal language, Stephen Wolfram is right on time. There is a lot about this book I found to be very interesting while also being informative. This is my first time reading a book by Mr. Wolfram and also my first time reading so thoroughly a book composed of essays about computational thinking and language creation. That being said, I could still understand the fundamental concepts and ideas written about enough to appreciate them. So much so I have found myself with a desire to read more of this author's work. Understanding mathematics came late to me in my life as I completed degrees in finance and business. Once you understand mathematics you understand so much, maybe everything, about the universe. Adventures of a Computational Explorer is a narrated journey into the author's ideas, curiosities, lifelong work in the fields of mathematics, computer science, and theoretical physics, and more. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys thinking outside the box, is curious, likes to be challenged, enjoys science, AI, physics, theory--this book really and truly is for everyone. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review Adventures of a Computational Explorer by Stephen Wolfram.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    I was very pleasantly surprised with this read. I received an invite to read and honestly review "Adventures of a Computational Explorer". Before accepting, I first read the bio and background of the author, Stephan Wolfram. I was expecting a dry, monotonous and boring book solely about coding and computer tech. I was concerned, since my interests lie more in physics and mathematics - come to find out I hit the jackpot with Mr. Wolfram's book. The author was educated in physics and has a love I was very pleasantly surprised with this read. I received an invite to read and honestly review "Adventures of a Computational Explorer". Before accepting, I first read the bio and background of the author, Stephan Wolfram. I was expecting a dry, monotonous and boring book solely about coding and computer tech. I was concerned, since my interests lie more in physics and mathematics - come to find out I hit the jackpot with Mr. Wolfram's book. The author was educated in physics and has a love for all things science and problem solving (hence the computer tech). The book was quite animated and well written.. His series of stories/writings were well researched. He took each subject and crafted a very logical and easy to read compilation. I am very thankful to have received the invitation to read and review the book, because I probably would not have read it otherwise; thinking it would have been too heavy on the computer science side. There was plenty of science, physics and computer information for all who engage in these genres of reading. I highly recommend buying the E-Book version. There are many links embedded in the body of the book that take to to areas of much more significant depth on the given subjects. Truly this is a book within a book. I appreciate any book that expands my mind and clarifies thought process - "Adventure of a Computational Explorer" definitely fulfilled that role. If you are interested in computer tech., Physics and science give this book a read it discusses all and brings them all together very well,

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    For anyone who hasn't come across Stephen Wolfram he is the highly successful CEO of his own company, probably best known for Mathematica software. This collection of essays and talks is not an easy read (unless you have a deep understanding of physics) but you should not let that put you off. The ideas and reflections are never less than interesting and at times inspiring. For example, the synthesis of quantum physics, mathematics and cellular automata and their application to the possible For anyone who hasn't come across Stephen Wolfram he is the highly successful CEO of his own company, probably best known for Mathematica software. This collection of essays and talks is not an easy read (unless you have a deep understanding of physics) but you should not let that put you off. The ideas and reflections are never less than interesting and at times inspiring. For example, the synthesis of quantum physics, mathematics and cellular automata and their application to the possible understanding of the origins of this universe (and the possibilities for others) make for a mind bending and inspiring proposition. I found this book better approached as a discrete series of ideas to be read and digested slowly rather than at one sitting. Use this approach and you will be rewarded with mind food for the long term.

  22. 4 out of 5

    ~bookworm~

    An incredibly interesting collection of observations, essays, notes etc about the work of Stephen Wolfram - a physicist, computer scientist & all round geeky nerd who is passionate about what he does & his philosophy that somehow, everything can be reduced to computation. I really enjoyed the section on his input into films - its this scientific input to a film that makes it believable & realistic for the viewer - even if they don't realise it! This book isn't so much an An incredibly interesting collection of observations, essays, notes etc about the work of Stephen Wolfram - a physicist, computer scientist & all round geeky nerd who is passionate about what he does & his philosophy that somehow, everything can be reduced to computation. I really enjoyed the section on his input into films - its this scientific input to a film that makes it believable & realistic for the viewer - even if they don't realise it! This book isn't so much an autobiography, but an insight into a scientific mind - a piece of research, a snapshot into his life ... It's a hard book to describe but one that is fascinating to read, and a great read for the geek in your life! Disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of this book free via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Interesting but could use some editing Wolfram is unquestionably a genius but the book is really just a series of disconnected blog posts. Since the posts were written in different years and each originally meant to be consumed as a stand-alone piece there ends up being significant repetition. Some editing create a consistent narrative would have gone a long way. Also, personally, I would prefer fewer references to his pet theory of computational irreducibility as it’s not really widely accepted. Interesting but could use some editing Wolfram is unquestionably a genius but the book is really just a series of disconnected blog posts. Since the posts were written in different years and each originally meant to be consumed as a stand-alone piece there ends up being significant repetition. Some editing create a consistent narrative would have gone a long way. Also, personally, I would prefer fewer references to his pet theory of computational irreducibility as it’s not really widely accepted. I believe all is this content is already available in exactly the same form on his blog.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Adventures of a Computational Explorer is an illuminating and entertaining collection of essays. You get the impression that Wolfram, the author, loves his job and loves sharing his genius level knowledge with others.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    NICE BOOK.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elle

    From netgalley, review to come.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elbrackeen Brackeen

    pw 9/2/19

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten never has enough time

    Hoo boy, a lot of this went over my head completely. But the Arrival stuff was very interesting! lol

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sandi Scott

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dirk Nerinckx

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