Physicist Stephen Wolfram says technology can be harnessed to do anything in science just as it can in small business. "When there's no reason something's impossible, it ends up being possible," he says.
Stephen Wolfram is a man of many talents.
As an inventor, he created Mathematica, a computational software program used by universities and governments worldwide; later in life, he developed Wolfram Alpha, an online service that offers answers to any question.
In a recent Idea Lab interview, Wolfram discussed his varied interests, which range from artificial intelligence to helping humans achieve immortality. Here are three of his brightest ideas, in no particular order.
Wolfram says humans will "undoubtedly" achieve immortality--that is, when technology "emulates human-like stuff in a pure piece of technology that can have complete longevity." Much in the way software dies, mortality is simply a problem that needs to be fixed. Eventually we can improve our longevity by taking "algorithmic drugs," which solve mathematic equations such as cancer and death. In many cases, the pills will update our body's technology.
Soon we can "manipulate every aspect of matter by doing little computations," says Wolfram. These computations could even help us manipulate the stars to create giant ads. Interestingly, these computations won't differ much from the ones that occur in nature, except for the fact that they're human-controlled. If technology can automate tasks, then humans can automate just about anything.
Is the human brain the most powerful form of intelligence? Wolfram, in his quest to create artificial intelligence, found that not only was his definition of a "brain" wrong, but humans are no smarter than nature. "This thing we think of as intelligent behavior is sophisticated computation, and sophisticated computation doesn't take a whole civilization to build up," he said. "Can't we do more sophisticated things than some mode of the ionosphere? The answer is sadly, no." There is no "sharp distinction" between the human brain and "any other system that is doing computation." For example, the weather's fluid dynamics is a kind of brain. Brings new meaning to the expression, "the weather has a mind of its own."
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz