Stephen Wolfram Featured as Speaker for the Distinguished Lecture Series at Illinois CS

12/6/2022 Gregory Pluta and Aaron Seidlitz

During the lecture, Wolfram discussed ideas from his recent book, “Combinators, a Centennial View,” while also finding time to meet with several investigators from the “Mind in Vitro – Computing with Live Neurons” research project.

Written by Gregory Pluta and Aaron Seidlitz

After a long COVID hiatus from campus visits, Stephen Wolfram visited Illinois Computer Science as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series on October 17, speaking before a crowd at the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. He also met with several investigators involved in the “Mind in Vitro - Computing with Neurons” research project recently funded by the National Science Foundation Expeditions in Computing Program.

A recent lecture from Stephen Wolfram, as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series, discussed ideas from his recent book, "Combinators, a Centennial View."
Stephen Wolfram, presenting recently as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series, discussed ideas from his book, "Combinators, a Centennial View."

Wolfram has spent his career leveraging the computational paradigm, alternating between basic science and technology development. He is the creator of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and the Wolfram Language. Wolfram authored the book, “A New Kind of Science” and other books. He is also the originator of the Wolfram Physics Project. He has been the founder, and since 1986, the CEO of Wolfram Research headquartered in Champaign. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

During the lecture, Wolfram discussed ideas from his recent book, “Combinators, a Centennial View.” This thought-provoking approach to the many complex structures that naturally occur in nature gave fresh thought to applying computing resources to better understand underlying mechanisms and rules that define our world.

Professor Lawrence Rauchwerger
Lawrence Rauchwerger

“Wolfram explained the physical world through computation in a captivating lecture," said Illinois CS professor Lawrence Rauchwerger. “He is an amazing speaker that makes complicated ideas easy to understand. After the lecture one is left with a lot to think about.”

Wolfram also met with key faculty from the Mind In Vitro project, including Rauchwerger and other professors Mattia Gazzola (Mechanical Science and Engineering) and Sepideh Sadaghiani (Psychology). Together, they discussed programming algorithmic models and structures. The concept may be useful while exploring neuron activity.

Also discussed were past efforts and future applications of biological computing, as well as the history of artificial intelligence.

Mattia Gazzola
Mattia Gazzola

“It was an intriguing conversation, spanning many domains. Of particular interest was the discussion on computing models, a topic of great relevance to our Expedition” Gazzola said.

The Mind in Vitro project is a seven-year, early-stage research project funded by the NSF to address a question with biological mechanisms for stimulus and response explored at the most basic level. It will also explore collective response and reprogramming of neurons. A thought-provoking conversation about the ethics of large collections of neurons creating a large computational pool was considered, potentially exceeding the computational scale of the human brain.

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This story was published December 6, 2022.