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25 years on: Wolfram tells the Mathematica story

Symbolic math is a bit more than just parsing an algebraic equation. Mathematica has become a standard for scientists trying to figure out better ways of expressing mathematical concepts and understanding what they mean.

“Electronic calculators arrived on the scene when I was 12—and I immediately became an enthusiast. And around the same time, I started using my first computer—an object the size of a large desk, with 8 kilowords of 18-bit memory, programmed mostly in assembler using paper tape. I tried doing physics with it, to no great success.

I was basically just doing numerics, though. But in the physics I wanted to do, there were all sorts of algebra. And not just a little algebra. Huge amounts. Expressions from Feynman diagrams with hundreds or thousands of terms, all of which had to be precisely right if one was going to get the right answer.

I wondered what to do. I imagined spending my life chasing minus signs and factors of 2.”

What to do? Figure out how to make a computer do it! Wolfram provides a personal account of the development of the ideas behind his software.

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