Stephen Wolfram: Memories of Steve Jobs

Original author: Stephen Wolfram
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This evening, like millions of people, it is unbearably sad to hear about the death of Steve Jobs. Over the past 25 years, I have learned a lot from Jobs, I considered him to be my friend and was incredibly proud of it. In fact, he somehow contributed to three of my most important projects: Mathematica, A New Kind of Science and Wolfram | Alpha.

I first met Steve Jobs in 1987, when he quietly created his first NeXT Computer, and I slowly created my first version of the Mathematica project. A mutual friend introduced us to each other, and without wasting time, Steve Jobs said that he planned to make a specific computer for the higher education sector, and he wants Mathematica to be part of this project. Now I vaguely recall the details of our first meeting, but at the end Steve definitely gave me his business card, which, as it turned out, still lies in my papers:


And a few months after our first meeting, we only did what Mathematica discussed with him. In fact, then the project did not have such a name, and one of the biggest questions was precisely the question of what to call it. At first it was called Omega (yes, like Alpha), and then PolyMath . According to Steve, these were slop names. I gave him my list with variations of titles and insisted that he offer his. He was silent for a while. And then one day he suddenly said: “You have to name your project Mathematica”.

In fact, I had thought about this name before, but then I refused it. I asked Steve why he thought it would fit. He told me about his theory that the name should first be a general term, so that the author of the project could later romanticize it. In this vein, Sony's Trinitron was a favorite example of Steve. So, for a while we postponed this discussion. However, in the end I agreed - yes, Mathematica was a good choice. It remained to them - after almost 24 years.

In the process of developing Mathematica, we quite often met with Steve Jobs to show him progress. He always said that he didn’t understand mathematics (although later I learned from my good friend who studied with Steve in high school that Steve attended at least a course in numerical methods). However, he made a large number of sentences from the category “needs to be made simpler” with respect to the interface and documentation. With one exception, perhaps it will be interesting to Mathematica fans: he suggested that the cells in Mathematica documents (now CDF ) should not look like simple vertical lines, but like brackets with small serifs at the ends. And this idea made us think about the hierarchy of cells, and subsequently about many features of other documents.

In July 1988, we were ready to release our project. However, NeXT has not yet released their computer, Steve Jobs has ceased to appear in public, and the assumptions about what was then busy with NeXT every day became more and more. So when Steve Jobs agreed to attend the presentation of our product , for us it was something out of the ordinary.

He delivered a wonderful speech, telling that he hopes that more and more areas will become computational, and will resort to using algorithms and Mathematica. And it was a good idea of ​​the expectations that came true, as he said. (And now I am very pleased when they say that many of the central iPhone algorithms were developed using Mathematica). NeXT a

bit laterwas finally released, and a copy of Mathematica was built into every computer. And while NeXT itself didn’t have much commercial success, Steve’s decision to tie Mathematica to it turned out to be a really good idea, and it was often the number one reason for buying NeXT computers.

An interesting detail of this story (about which I learned a few years later) is
that one of the NeXT batches, bought to launch Mathematica, went to CERN in Geneva (Switzerland), but it turned out to be marked by participation in the first Web development.

At that time, I met regularly with Steve Jobs. One day, I went to the new NeXT offices in Redwood City to see it. Actually, I wanted to talk to him about using Mathematica as a computer language. Although he always preferred the interface to languages, he really tried to be useful. The conversation continued, and then he said that he could not stay for dinner - and indeed he was a little absentminded - because that evening he was going on a date, and he did not go on dates for quite some time. He explained that he had met a woman whom he had met a few days ago and was very nervous about the date. That same Steve Jobs - a confident businessman and technologist - has disappeared, now before me was Steve Jobs, telling me about a date - who barely understands such things.

As it turned out later, the meeting went well - and after 18 months that woman became his wife - and she remained until the very end.

Within ten years, my direct interaction with Steve Jobs has practically faded away - because during this time I went deep into work on A New Kind of Science. However, almost the time when I was awake, I was working on a NeXT computer - in fact, most of my discoveries were made on it. And when the book was finished, and Steve asked to send him a preliminary version of it - I, of course, did it.

Then they told me more than once that on the back cover of the book it is necessary to place some statements about it. I turned to Steve for this, and I received a lot of questions. But in the end he said “There were no statements on the covers of Isaac Newton’s books, but why do you need them?” And so at the last minute a simple and elegant series of pictures was placed on the back cover of my book A New Kind of Science. Another contribution of Steve Jobs, which I recall every time I look at my big book.

In my life I was fortunate enough to somehow interact with talented people from various fields. Of all of them, I single out Steve for the clarity of his thoughts. Again and again he was engaged in the analysis of difficult situations, got to the bottom of their essence and used an understanding of the nature of this or that thing in order to finally take a bold step, often in an unexpected direction.

Most of my life, connected with science and technology, I personally spent working in similar directions. And trying to do something as good as possible.

Now looking at the practical world of technology and business, I understand that none of the strategies can be called good for sure. In fact, sometimes it seems that clarity, understanding, special qualities and new ideas do not mean anything at all, and the winners are those who have interests in completely different areas at once.

That is why the amazing success of Steve Jobs and Apple has recently been for me and our company just incredible motivation. This success seemed to be proof of what I believed for many years. He encouraged me to believe with even greater force.

I think that over the years Steve Jobs appreciated the approach that I tried to apply to my company. He has always provided incredible support (Yes, even today, for example, I was reminded of the amazing video that he sent to the user conference in honor of the 10th anniversary of our project Mathematica). He really wanted us to work first with NeXT, and then with Apple.

I think that Mathematica is different in that it is still the only major software system available on every computer launched by Steve Jobs since 1988 when running. Of course, this often led to particularly secret urgent transfers of Mathematica projects - a couple of times that Theo Gray showed these results in keynote speeches by Steve Jobs.

When Apple began to produce iPods and iPhones, I didn’t understand whether they would be in any way connected with our project. But after the release of Wolfram | Alpha, we began to understand how important it is to have knowledge of relative computing on the platform created by Steve Jobs. And when the iPad came out, Theo Gray - at the insistence of Steve Jobs - persuaded us to do something significant for him.

The result of this interaction was the creation of Touch Press , the publication of Theo Elements's book in ebook format, and now a number of other books on the iPad. The creation of iPad by Steve Jobs led to a completely new direction.

Today it is impossible not to note and not to recall all the incredible help and energy that we received from Steve Jobs. Looking at my archive, I understand that I completely forgot what difficult situations he sometimes helped me figure out. From glitches in the NEXTSTEP versions to a personal call not so long ago, made to assure me that connecting Mathematica and CDF to iOS will allow us to avoid the ban.

I am incredibly grateful to Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, his biggest contribution to the project of my whole life Wolfram | Alpha appeared only yesterday: the announcement that Wolfram | Alpha will be used in Siri on iPhone 4S.

This is perhaps the most important step of Steve Jobs. Understanding that people just want to have direct access to knowledge and actions on their phones. Without all these extra steps that people usually take.

I am proud that we can give an understanding of this with Wolfram | Alpha. What is happening now is just the beginning and I look forward to what we and Apple will do in this direction in the future. But I am very sad that Steve Jobs will no longer take part in this.

When I first met Steve Jobs 25 years ago, I was amazed by his stories that NeXT is what he "wants to do at 30". At that time I thought that planning life for decades ahead is very bold. And - especially those of us who spend their lives on large projects - are incredibly inspired by the realization that Steve Jobs managed to achieve so much in his very short life, so tragically interrupted today.

Thank you, Steve. For all.

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