Wolfram, of Mathematica and Alpha fame, has announced a new project that will change everything. It is a new language called Wolfram Language.
Stephen Wolfram isn't known for his modesty, but his latest blog post takes some beating. In it he announces a new project to unify everything via a single language - Wolfram Language. The information provided is fairly detailed in terms of new products and services, but also vague when it comes to anything that might actually be really new.
A few months go he asked for suggestions for names for the language within Mathematica. Given how long the language has been in use this seems an odd thing to do and mostly just a publicity stunt. Given that the name chosen was "Wolfram Language" it also seems to have been something of an ego trip.
The language is an odd mix of ideas that couple the Mathematica engine to automate symbolic processing in ways that are quite powerful - but most of that power comes from the Mathematica engine. Indeed many Mathematica users work interactively, only straying into programming when something needs to be repeated a few times.
The programming language itself is unremarkable - a mix of some Lisp like features with C and functional programming thrown in. You can write programs in a style that is broadly functional, or object-oriented at a push. In other contexts it might well be called a scripting language.
Even though it seems to be nothing special, it is clear that there has been some revelation:
"But recently something amazing has happened. We’ve figured out how to take all these threads, and all the technology we’ve built, to create something at a whole different level. The power of what is emerging continues to surprise me. But already I think it’s clear that it’s going to be profoundly important in the technological world, and beyond."
It seems to be something to do with a unification of different aspects of using Wolfram Language:
"But what snuck up on me is a breathtaking new level of unification—that lets one begin to see that all the things we’ve achieved in the past 25+ years are just steps on a path to something much bigger and more important."
The key idea seems to be some sort of extension of the language of Mathematica. Whatever the extension is it has to be something radical to achieve what is expected of it, because the current Mathematic language isn't at all remarkable and would need more than a slight modification to make it special. The only hint of what this might be is that the language will be able to bring symbolics to work on the data and the program. Of course this just Lisp's big idea - program as data and data as program.
Another key quote is:
"The Wolfram Language can immediately describe its own deployment. Whether it’s creating an instant API, or putting up an interactive web page, or creating a mobile app, or collecting data from a network of embedded programs.
And what’s more, it can do it transparently across desktop, cloud, mobile, enterprise and embedded systems."
It is difficult to know what this means, but unification across systems usually means making all the systems look the same by bringing your own operating environment with you.
As to what products are in the pipeline, the blog is much more revealing. There will be a Wolfram Programming Cloud, which will allow the creation and deployment of program in the cloud. There will be a Wolfram Data Science platform which seems to be a cross between Wolfram Alpha and Wolfram Language. There will be a Wolfram Publishing Platform for documents with Wolfram Language embedded. Finally Mathematica will be going cloud-based.
The blog also gives details of the Wolfram Language Programming Playground, which will allow users to learn the language. There even seems to be a suggestion that you could author onine courses using the same technologies.
There might be something really big about to be announced which will surprise us all, but what has been detailed is slightly underwhelming. Another programming language, another cloud deployment, and the language at the center of it all is really nothing special.
I guess we will just have to wait and see.