Analyzing and Translating an Alien Language: Arrival, Logograms and the Wolfram Language
January 31, 2017 — Michael Gammon, Communications Project Coordinator, Public Relations
If aliens actually visited Earth, world leaders would bring in a scientist to develop a process for understanding their language. So when director Denis Villeneuve began working on the science fiction movie Arrival, he and his team turned to real-life computer scientists Stephen and Christopher Wolfram to bring authentic science to the big screen. Christopher specifically was tasked with analyzing and writing code for a fictional nonlinear visual language. On January 31, he demonstrated the development process he went through in a livecoding event broadcast on LiveEdu.tv.
Scientists and general viewers alike were interested in the story of the Wolframs’ behind-the-scenes contributions to the movie, from Space.com to OuterPlaces.com and others. SlashFilm.com went further, pointing readers to the Science vs. Cinema Arrival episode featuring interviews with the Wolframs, other scientists, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams and Villeneuve. Wired magazine also interviewed Christopher Wolfram on the subject of the Wolfram Language code he created to lend validity to the computer screens shown in the film. Watch Christopher Wolfram walk you through his development process.
Wolfram Research has a track record of contributing to film and TV. From the puzzles in the television show NUMB3RS to the wormhole experience in Interstellar, Wolfram technology and expertise have enriched some beloved popular art and entertainment. With Arrival, however, Stephen and Christopher consulted more extensively on what Stephen calls “the science texture” of the film.
Science and technology shape our world now more than ever. Science fiction movies are finding a wider audience, and we find these stories are crafted into films by some of the most skilled filmmakers around. If filmmakers such as Villeneuve continue to recognize the importance of getting the science right, science fiction will continue to live up to Arthur C. Clarke’s claim that “science fiction is escape into reality…. [It] concern[s] itself with real issues: the origin of man; our future.”
For more information on the Wolframs’ involvement in Arrival, read Stephen Wolfram’s blog post, “Quick, How Might the Alien Spacecraft Work?”