Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Analyzing and Translating an Alien Language: Arrival, Logograms and the Wolfram Language

Black and white logogram

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 you can watch on YouTube.

Color logogram

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?


Join the discussion

!Please enter your comment (at least 5 characters).

!Please enter your name.

!Please enter a valid email address.


  1. The link for the livestream isn’t working):

  2. It appears that your live stream video is down. Do you have another mirrored video? I am very interested in watching your demo.

  3. Hello Mr. Wolfram, I’m an artist and I’ve recently become interested in the Heptapod logogram language you designed for the movie Arrival. I want to learn more about this language as to make some calligraphy art using it, but your stream video “The Code Behind Arrival” does not play for some reason. If you could fix this issue, or upload the video to another platform such as Youtube, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks for the help

    • Hello Jon! We previously streamed “The Code Behind Arrival” on a platform called Liveedu.tv, as service which was previously free to watch but has since decided upon using a subscription model. We have tried to pull the video to another platform for others to enjoy for free, but so far have had no luck. We’ll have an update if this changes!

  4. the youtube link is working but the livestream did not open. BTW, thanks for the informative great post

  5. great post. thanks for sharing

  6. Thanks for sharing the great information . best wishes

  7. Thank you for all this work! Do you have a list of the word/concepts in the circle language? Some hope for a dictionary. I’d be happy with a list with their meanings.