Adventures of a Computational Explorer

Author: Stephen Wolfram
Publisher: Wolfram Media
Pages: 432
ISBN: 978-1579550264
Kindle: B07Z6BYVSC
Audience: Fans of  Stephen Wolfram
Rating:  3
Reviewer: Alex Armstrong
A personal account of being a computer geek?

If you know about Stephen Wolfram and Mathematica there won't be much new to you in this volume. It is a collection of short essays that have appeared on Wolfram's blog over the years, but now seem to have been removed. As a collection of blog posts the whole thing could do with a good edit - and reduction in size. There are many places that it rambles and is self-indulgent at the reader's expense.

Of course, anyone who has read anything by Stephen Wolfram will know that he tends to write about how he had an idea - never mind that lots of people had the same idea earlier or had ideas that led up to that idea. The only time he gives out any sort of credit is when he is name-dropping people he once met. The more famous they are, the more the reflected glory. This is just Stephen Wolfram and some people really find it difficult to take while others just say - well he is a bright guy we will just have to put up with his lack of social grace.

There is also the problem that he tends to go on about the few things he is obsessive about - mainly cellular automata, universal computational equivalence, Wolfram Language and, of course, Mathematica. If you find any of these interesting, or you don't know much about them, then the book will be all the more interesting to you. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, this book predates his current obsession with reinventing physics from the ground up using simple rules and networks. 


The book begins with perhaps the most generally interesting chapter about helping out with the scientific advice on a movie. If you have never thought about the scientific angles on such fantasy then this will be interesting, but it isn't particularly novel. The next few blogs continue the theme with a look at how we might communicate with aliens - again interesting, but not groundbreaking.

From here on in things gets a little more boring because they are very specific to Wolfram and all his works. A piece on Pi day, musings on physics, music, early life and a lot of comments on running a company. The business angle might interest some people, but don't expect any of it to be generalizable - Wolfram isn't a typical CEO.

I can't imagine anyone enjoying all of it, even if you can get beyond the ego trip that this book is. The material is just too detailed and not inspiring. If this is supposed to be about the adventures of a computational explorer, then all I can say is how unadventurous. Compared to deep thinkers like Gregory Chaitin, Donald Knuth, John Conway to name just three, this hardly scratches the surface. Wolfram writes as if he has never encountered any computer science theory and any that he does mention he takes full credit for.  


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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 June 2021 )