The Blog

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Nathan Myrvold vs. Stephen Wolfram: two world-class geniuses

Nathan Myrvold and Stephen Wolfram are two of the world's most famous geniuses. Having learned of the facts and stories about them, I think it is constructive to do a comparison between them to find their similarities and put them in perspective together.

Nathan Myrvold

* Former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft.
* Appointed by Bill Gates to found Microsoft Research in 1991 as the unit's first director.
* Retired from Microsoft in 1999 at the age of 40 with reportedly a net worth of $250 million USD.
* Used to be Microsoft's "resident philosopher", meaning that anyone who had any questions about philosophy at Microsoft went to see him for an answer.
* Received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Princeton University at the age of 23.
* Has nine advanced degrees (one Ph.D., seven Masters, and one certificate).
* Used to be a post-doctoral researcher at Cambridge University under the supervision of Prof. Stephen Hawking, who is called by some as the "living Einstein" and who is the author of the international bestseller "A brief history of time".
* Born in 1959.
* American-born.

Stephen Wolfram

* Founder of Wolfram Research and creator of the Mathematica software system, the best system for computers to do almost anything related to mathematics.
* Received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) at the age of 20.
* Published his first paper in particle physics at the age of 15.
* Was hired as an assistant professor in the physics department at Caltech immediately after receiving his Ph.D. (Caltech has arguably the world's best physics department in any university.)
* Founded Wolfram Research at the age of 27 and started writing Mathematica.
* Author of the book "A new kind of science", an bestseller and a masterpiece that attempts to find a new unified theory of science by using a method called "cellular automata".
* Has been called the "smartest scientist alive".
* Born in 1959.
* British-born; acquired US citizenship through naturalization.

Got it? There are *so* many similarities between these two geniuses! I haven't met Nathan Myrvold yet, but I had the opportunity to attend a talk given by Stephen Wolfram in August 1996 at the University of California, San Diego, my alma mater. I was studying toward my Ph.D. at that time, and Wolfram was on a university tour to publicize Mathematica 3.0, which was just released. Wolfram was a bona fide genius. Not only was he very sharp and lucid in his speech and thinking, he was full of energy and was very *restless*. His aggressiveness practically exuded out of him, and you can tell this guy is no ordinary person just by watching the way he speaks and presents his ideas. I came away from the talk very impressed by Wolfram, and I consider myself lucky to have had this chance to meet face-to-face with such a true genius.