Kurt Gödel is Laughing His Ass Off Right Now

I use Mathematica occasionally. I think it sucks[1] and I loathe it, but I sometimes find it useful for implementing mathematical algorithms and solvers before (or after) I implement them in production code, for prototyping (or debugging).

Regardless of how I feel about the technical aspects of Mathematica itself, wow, is Stephen Wolfram[2] a piece of work, or what? I have a healthy ego, and I think I'm a pretty smart guy, but my God, that man's ego burns with the light of a thousand suns. He's obviously very smart, and he's a very successful businessperson, but the magnitude of his ego-maniacal self-promotion transcends any level of intelligence or success.

A group of friends and I used to do dramatic readings of the About the Author text from the Mathematica Book, which begins thusly:

About the Author
Stephen Wolfram is the creator of Mathematica and is widely regarded as the most important innovator in scientific and technical computing today.

The guy wrote that himself.

Wait, while searching for that, I see he updated it slightly in later versions:

About the Author
Stephen Wolfram is the creator of Mathematica, and a well-known scientist. He is widely regarded as the most important innovator in technical computing today, as well as one of the world's most original research scientists.

I guess the original didn't fully express the boundless expanse of his awesomeness.

Even so, I never really thought much about posting this opinion publicly[3]—it just didn't seem worth it—until today.

As most of the internet knows, Wolfram launched Wolfram|Alpha a little while back. Cutting through the hype, it seems to be a project that's trying to take a lot of data and unify and tag it semantically with units and so forth, so computers can reason and compute about it. People have found—like with most of these knowledge representation attempts—if you stray very far from the examples, it doesn't work very well. But hey, it's cool that they're trying. I'm all for big and well-funded AI projects.

Given that it doesn't work very well, it becomes very useful for jokes. As the punchline to a mail I was sending to some friends who were debating whether game designers should learn to program, and if so, how should they learn, I decided to ask Wolfram|Alpha. This was its reply:


To me, this image is the knowledge-search-engine equivalent to the Warren-Spector-game-journalism quote. It's just beautiful along every axis.

Kurt Gödel is not amused.    Stephen Wolfram


  • The most excellent Casey Muratori asks:

    Does anyone want to bet as to which will gain self-awareness first: Wolfram Alpha or Wolfram, Stephen?

    Update: Casey was inspired to compose a piece of music titled, Stephen Wolfram's Ego Rises in the Night Sky.

  • Sadly, if you ask Wolfram|Alpha to compute the light of a thousand suns, you get nonsense. Update: someone pointed out that sun is a Japanese unit of length measurement, so Wolfram|Alpha's answer is not technically nonsense per se, it's just bumbling and clueless[4]. I'm not sure why it decided to multiply c times 1000 suns given the phrase.
  • This is the image displayed when you click on Wolfram's intro screencast:


  • If you look at the current version of the Wikipedia page for Wolfram|Alpha (at the time I wrote the page), it has the following: It was announced in March 2009 by British physicist, mathematician, visionary, computer scientist, software developer, promoter, entrepreneur, author and businessman Stephen Wolfram, and was released to the public on May 15, 2009. Nine adjectives[5]! Ten if you count "British". Update: sadly, I guess some people took it too far and the Wikipolice edited the sentence back to sanity.
  • It just keeps getting better: if you Google the bio quote, Google helpfully suggests: Did you mean: Stephen Wolfram is the creator of Mathematics and is widely regarded as the most important innovator in scientific and technical computing today. Um, no, I didn't, thanks.
  • Anders Sandberg wrote a wonderful article proposing the Wolfram as the unit of ego measurement.
  • Strange: this page is currently the #6 result on a Google search of the word "ass". Update: now it's #5, how high will it go? Update²: apparently it got to #3, but now it's nowhere to be seen in the first 10 pages; I had no idea the "ass" results were so fresh. Update³: It is back on the charts, holding steady on page seven. I now get about four hits a day from people searching on the word "ass", which means they go seven pages deep in the search results and then find my page and Kurt Gödel's name and click through.
  • Wolfram gave a TED lecture this year, and this was one of the slides:


    I like how that little ol' thing called Physics nestles in there nicely with his other accomplishments.

    The lecture got a standing ovation at the end, which confuses me, since even ignoring my obvious issues with Wolfram's ego, the lecture just wasn't that good, he didn't say much, and he hyped his own products. I suspect there's a bit of "I'm at TED and paid a lot of money and am sitting next to Al Gore, so these must be the best lectures ever!" going on at the conference. That said, the absolute best lecture I've ever seen, Ken Robinson's talk on education, was at TED in 2006, so maybe I'm just missing something awesome about Wolfram's lecture too.

  1. I will write up why I think it sucks it in more detail at some point on my Mathematica page, but for now I refer you to this. To be fair, I'm using an old copy of Mathematica 3.0, but I've looked at the feature lists of the newer versions and they don't seem to fix (or even acknowledge) the issues I have with it, so I've never bothered to upgrade. I have an article brewing about my math problem solving workflow that I hope to post before the heat death of the universe.
  2. Read the talk page as well, of course.
  3. No, not even after A New Kind of Science came out.
  4. Kind of like you'd expect from just a plain old computer program.
  5. Some people on the internets have quarreled with my use of the term adjective here. I'm not an expert in these wordy matters, but I believe these are nouns used as adjectives. Unfortunately, Wolfram|Alpha is no help.
This page was last edited on 16 November 2011, at 03:28.