Wolfram Language Coming to Raspberry Pi

Wolfram’s software running on Raspberry Pi.

Earlier in November, entrepreneurial mathematician Stephen Wolfram announced a long-in-development project to create a new programming language. In an extensive blog posting on his Website, he claimed that the so-called “Wolfram Language” would allow developers and software engineers to program a variety of complex functions in a streamlined fashion, for a variety of devices.

Now comes the first real-world implementation.

Wolfram is working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to load a pilot release of the Wolfram Language onto every Raspberry Pi computer, as part of the latter’s standard system software. The ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi (the Model A costs $25, and the Model B $35) is an ARM-based computer not much larger than a credit card, which the user plugs into a monitor or television to display outputs; it runs Linux. As part of the deal, the Wolfram Language on Raspberry Pi comes bundled with Mathematica, Wolfram’s computational platform.

“In effect, this is a technology preview: it’s an early, unfinished, glimpse of the Wolfram Language,” Wolfram wrote in a Nov. 21 posting on his blog. “Quite soon the Wolfram Language is going to start showing up in lots of places, notably on the web and in the cloud. But I’m excited that the timing has worked out so that we’re able to give the Raspberry Pi community—with its emphasis on education and invention—the very first chance to put the Wolfram Language into action.”

A Raspberry Pi computer will run the Wolfram Language “perhaps 10 to 20 times slower” than a current model laptop, Wolfram added. “But for many things, the speed of the Raspberry Pi is just fine. And for example, my old test of computing 1989^1989 that used to take many seconds on the computers that existed when Mathematica was young now runs in an immeasurably short time on the Raspberry Pi.”

Why did Wolfram select Raspberry Pi as the first test case for the Wolfram Language? (Side note: it’s also the second computer to ever feature a bundled, free version of Mathematica; the first was the NeXT computer built by Steve Jobs and crew.) According to him, if the Wolfram Language can run on a $25 computer, it can pretty much run on any new machine or network—something that could assure any developers or engineers exploring the possibilities of the software.

The Wolfram Language leverages automation to cut out much of the complexity that dominates modern programming. “The Wolfram Language does things automatically whenever you want it to,” Wolfram wrote in a recent blog posting. “Whether it’s selecting an optimal algorithm for something. Or picking the most aesthetic layout. Or parallelizing a computation efficiently. Or figuring out the semantic meaning of a piece of data. Or, for that matter, predicting what you might want to do next. Or understanding input you’ve given in natural language.”

In other words, it’s a general-purpose programming language with a number of functions built right in. Wolfram plans on creating what he calls a “Programming Playground” that will let developers experiment with the Language, even as he deploys it across his company’s product lines; the next few months will see the deployment of Programing Cloud—which he previewed at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin—as well as the Wolfram Data Science Platform, which will leverage the Wolfram Language towards data analysis. Until then, Raspberry Pi will represent the first big test of the language.

 

Image: Stephen Wolfram

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