A New Kind of Science is on the iPad

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

When Stephen Wolfram announced that a new kind of science is on the iPad, I assumed he meant that some version of Mathematica was coming to Apple’s tablet, but he was literally referring to A New Kind of Science, his book about using tools like Mathematica:

I and my assistants spent literally years producing all the diagrams in the book. But to keep the printed version to a manageable size (the 1280 pages of the book were the absolute limit for the binding technology we used), we had to print most of the diagrams quite small. Still, underneath, the algorithms we used generated incredible detail, most of which was invisible, except through the magnifying glass that I kept near my desk.

But now, with the iPad, I didn’t need that magnifying glass any more. I could just immediately use a couple of fingers to zoom in. And I went from page to page, looking at all sorts of diagrams, and seeing all those features that I last saw in fleeting moments more than a decade earlier on the screen of the NeXT computer on which I developed most of the book.

Many aspects of the science in the book rely on observation — on actually looking at systems in the computational universe. And I have no doubt that there are significant discoveries lurking in the details of many pictures in the book — that can now be exposed just by a simple zoom on the iPad.

There are other good things about having A New Kind of Science on the iPad too.

When I wrote A New Kind of Science, I broke it into two parts: the main text, which tells the core story of the science, and the notes, which give all sorts of details, background, and extra material — including some of my favorite technical and historical facts.

In the printed book, the notes had to be formatted quite small — and even so, they took up 300 pages. But they were so popular that we actually had to print a separate, large-format version of them. On the iPad, though, there’s no such issue; the notes are immediately accessible, and all nicely linked to the main text.

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