Posts from 2015

Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace

Click to enlarge
(New York Public Library)

Ada Lovelace was born 200 years ago today. To some she is a great hero in the history of computing; to others an overestimated minor figure. I’ve been curious for a long time what the real story is. And in preparation for her bicentennial, I decided to try to solve what for me has always been the “mystery of Ada”.

It was much harder than I expected. Historians disagree. The personalities in the story are hard to read. The technology is difficult to understand. The whole story is entwined with the customs of 19th-century British high society. And there’s a surprising amount of misinformation and misinterpretation out there.

But after quite a bit of research—including going to see many original documents—I feel like I’ve finally gotten to know Ada Lovelace, and gotten a grasp on her story. In some ways it’s an ennobling and inspiring story; in some ways it’s frustrating and tragic.

It’s a complex story, and to understand it, we’ll have to start by going over quite a lot of facts and narrative.

Looking at a letter from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage in the British Library—click to enlarge
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I Wrote a Book—To Teach the Wolfram Language

An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language is available in print, free on the web, etc.

An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language

I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to write another book. My last book—A New Kind of Science—took me more than a decade of intensely focused work, and is the largest personal project I’ve ever done.

But a little while ago, I realized there was another book I had to write: a book that would introduce people with no knowledge of programming to the Wolfram Language and the kind of computational thinking it allows.

The result is An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language, published today in print, free on the web, etc. Continue reading

What Is Spacetime, Really?

Note: The ideas here have now been developed much further in the Wolfram Physics Project.
See the announcement: Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics… and It’s Beautiful (April 14, 2020)

Space network

A hundred years ago today Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity—a brilliant, elegant theory that has survived a century, and provides the only successful way we have of describing spacetime.

There are plenty of theoretical indications, though, that General Relativity isn’t the end of the story of spacetime. And in fact, much as I like General Relativity as an abstract theory, I’ve come to suspect it may actually have led us on a century-long detour in understanding the true nature of space and time.

I’ve been thinking about the physics of space and time for a little more than 40 years now. At the beginning, as a young theoretical physicist, I mostly just assumed Einstein’s whole mathematical setup of Special and General Relativity—and got on with my work in quantum field theory, cosmology, etc. on that basis.

But about 35 years ago, partly inspired by my experiences in creating technology, I began to think more deeply about fundamental issues in theoretical science—and started on my long journey to go beyond traditional mathematical equations and instead use computation and programs as basic models in science. Quite soon I made the basic discovery that even very simple programs can show immensely complex behavior—and over the years I discovered that all sorts of systems could finally be understood in terms of these kinds of programs.

Encouraged by this success, I then began to wonder if perhaps the things I’d found might be relevant to that ultimate of scientific questions: the fundamental theory of physics. Continue reading