Alan Kay: Wikis


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Alan Curtis Kay

Born May 17, 1940 (1940-05-17) (age 69)
Citizenship United States
Fields Computer Science
Institutions Xerox PARC
Apple Inc. ATG
Walt Disney Imagineering
Kyoto University
Viewpoints Research Institute
Hewlett-Packard Labs
Alma mater University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Utah
Known for Dynabook
object-oriented programming
graphical user interface windows
Notable awards ACM Turing Award, Kyoto Prize, Charles Stark Draper Prize

Alan Curtis Kay (born May 17, 1940) is an American computer scientist, known for his early pioneering work on object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design, and for coining the phrase, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." He is the president of the Viewpoints Research Institute, and an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also on the advisory board of TTI/Vanguard. Until mid 2005, he was a Senior Fellow at HP Labs, a Visiting Professor at Kyoto University, and an Adjunct Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[1]


Early life and work

Originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, Kay attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, earning a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics and Molecular Biology. Before and during this time, he worked as a professional jazz guitarist.

In 1966, he began graduate school at the University of UtahCollege of Engineering, earning a Master's degree and a Ph.D. degree. There, he worked with Ivan Sutherland, who had done pioneering graphics programs including Sketchpad. This greatly inspired Kay's evolving views on objects and programming. As he grew busier with ARPA research, he quit his career as a professional musician.

In 1968, he met Seymour Papert and learned of the Logo programming language, a dialect of Lisp optimized for educational use. This led him to learn of the work of Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygotsky, and of Constructionist learning. These further influenced his views.

In 1970, Kay joined Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center, PARC. In the 1970s he was one of the key members there to develop prototypes of networked workstations using the programming language Smalltalk. These inventions were later commercialized by Apple Computer in their Lisa and Macintosh computers.

Kay is one of the fathers of the idea of object-oriented programming, which he named, along with some colleagues at PARC and predecessors at the Norwegian Computing Center. He conceived the Dynabook concept which defined the conceptual basics for laptop and tablet computers and E-books, and is the architect of the modern overlapping windowing graphical user interface (GUI)[2]. Because the Dynabook was conceived as an educational platform, Kay is considered to be one of the first researchers into mobile learning, and indeed, many features of the Dynabook concept have been adopted in the design of the One Laptop Per Child educational platform, with which Kay is actively involved.

After 10 years at Xerox PARC, Kay became Atari's chief scientist for three years.

Recent work and recognition

Starting in 1984, Kay was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer until the closing of the ATG (Advanced Technology Group), one of the company's R&D divisions.[citation needed] He then joined Walt Disney Imagineering as a Disney Fellow and remained there until Disney ended its Disney Fellow program. After Disney, in 2001 he founded Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to children, learning, and advanced software development.

Later, Kay worked with a team at Applied Minds, then became a Senior Fellow at Hewlett-Packard until HP disbanded the Advanced Software Research Team on July 20, 2005. He is currently head of Viewpoints Institute.

Squeak, Etoys, and Croquet

In December 1995, when he was still at Apple, Kay collaborated with many others to start the open source Squeak dynamic media software, and he continues to work on it. As part of this effort, in November 1996, his team began research on what became the Etoys system. More recently he started, along with David A. Smith, David P. Reed, Andreas Raab, Rick McGeer, Julian Lombardi, and Mark McCahill, the Croquet Project, which is an open source networked 2D and 3D environment for collaborative work.


In 2001, it became clear that the Etoy architecture in Squeak had reached its limits in what the Morphic interface infrastructure could do. Andreas Raab was a researcher working in Kay's group, then at Hewlett-Packard. He proposed defining a "script process" and providing a default scheduling mechanism that avoids several more general problems.[3] The result was a new user interface, proposed to replace the Squeak Morphic user interface in the future. Tweak added mechanisms of islands, asynchronous messaging, players and costumes, language extensions, projects, and tile scripting[4]. Its underlying object system is class-based, but to users (during programming) it acts like it is prototype-based. Tweak objects are created and run in Tweak project windows.

Children's Machine

In November 2005, at the World Summit on the Information Society, the MIT research laboratories unveiled a new laptop computer, for educational use around the world. It has many names: the $100 Laptop, the One Laptop per Child program, the Children's Machine, and the XO-1. The program was begun and is sustained by Kay's friend, Nicholas Negroponte, and is based on Kay's Dynabook ideal. Kay is a prominent co-developer of the computer, focusing on its educational software using Squeak and Etoys.

Reinventing programming

Kay has lectured extensively on the idea that the Computer Revolution is very new, and all of the good ideas have not been universally implemented. Lectures at OOPSLA 1997 conference and his ACM Turing award talk, entitled "The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet" were informed by his experiences with Sketchpad, Simula, Smalltalk, and the bloated code of commercial software.

On 31 August 2006, Kay's proposal to the United States National Science Foundation, NSF, was granted, thus funding Viewpoints Research Institute for several years. The proposal title is: Steps Toward the Reinvention of Programming: A compact and Practical Model of Personal Computing as a Self-exploratorium [5]. A sense of what Kay is trying to do comes from this quote, from the abstract of a seminar on this given at Intel Research Labs, Berkeley: "The conglomeration of commercial and most open source software consumes in the neighborhood of several hundreds of millions of lines of code these days. We wonder: how small could be an understandable practical "Model T" design that covers this functionality? 1M lines of code? 200K LOC? 100K LOC? 20K LOC?"[6]

The system being developed makes extensive use of parsing via a bottom up rewrite grammar.[7][8][9]

Awards and honors

Alan Kay has received many awards and honors. Among them:

Other honors: J-D Warnier Prix d’Informatique, ACM Systems Software Award, NEC Computers & Communication Foundation Prize, Funai Foundation Prize, Lewis Branscomb Technology Award, ACM SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education.

Personal background

Kay is an avid and skilled musician who plays keyboard instruments and guitar. He has a special interest in early keyboard instruments like the baroque pipe organ and old guitars. He was a former professional jazz and rock and roll guitarist. He is married to Bonnie MacBird, a writer, actress, artist and television producer who shares his passion for music.



External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Alan Curtis Kay (born 1940-05-17) is an American computer scientist known for his early pioneering work on object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design.


If you don't fail at least 90 percent of the time, you're not aiming high enough.
By the time I got to school, I had already read a couple hundred books. I knew in the first grade that they were lying to me because I had already been exposed to other points of view. School is basically about one point of view — the one the teacher has or the textbooks have.
Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.
  • The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
    • Early meeting in 1971 of PARC, Palo Alto Research Center, folks and the Xerox planners [<31]
  • If you don't fail at least 90 percent of the time, you're not aiming high enough.
    • Chris Crawford on Game Design
  • By the time I got to school, I had already read a couple hundred books. I knew in the first grade that they were lying to me because I had already been exposed to other points of view. School is basically about one point of view — the one the teacher has or the textbooks have. They don't like the idea of having different points of view, so it was a battle. Of course I would pipe up with my five-year-old voice.
    • Alan Kay by Scott Gasch
  • Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.
    • The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web, Bo Leuf, Ward Cunningham
  • Technology is anything that wasn't around when you were born.
    • Hong Kong press conference in the late 1980s
  • OOP to me means only messaging, local retention and protection and hiding of state-process, and extreme late-binding of all things. It can be done in Smalltalk and in LISP. There are possibly other systems in which this is possible, but I'm not aware of them.
  • Perl is another example of filling a tiny, short-term need, and then being a real problem in the longer term. Basically, a lot of the problems that computing has had in the last 25 years comes from systems where the designers were trying to fix some short-term thing and didn’t think about whether the idea would scale if it were adopted. There should be a half-life on software so old software just melts away over 10 or 15 years.
  • Basic would never have surfaced because there was always a language better than Basic for that purpose. That language was Joss, which predated Basic and was beautiful. But Basic happened to be on a GE timesharing system that was done by Dartmouth, and when GE decided to franchise that, it started spreading Basic around just because it was there, not because it had any intrinsic merits whatsoever.
  • Computing spread out much, much faster than educating unsophisticated people can happen. In the last 25 years or so, we actually got something like a pop culture, similar to what happened when television came on the scene and some of its inventors thought it would be a way of getting Shakespeare to the masses. But they forgot that you have to be more sophisticated and have more perspective to understand Shakespeare. What television was able to do was to capture people as they were. So I think the lack of a real computer science today, and the lack of real software engineering today, is partly due to this pop culture.
  • I fear —as far as I can tell— that most undergraduate degrees in computer science these days are basically Java vocational training. I’ve heard complaints from even mighty Stanford University with its illustrious faculty that basically the undergraduate computer science program is little more than Java certification.
  • Most creativity is a transition from one context into another where things are more surprising. There’s an element of surprise, and especially in science, there is often laughter that goes along with the “Aha.” Art also has this element. Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in — the one that we think is reality.
  • The future is not laid out on a track. It is something that we can decide, and to the extent that we do not violate any known laws of the universe, we can probably make it work the way that we want to.
  • The real romance is out ahead and yet to come. The computer revolution hasn't started yet. Don't be misled by the enormous flow of money into bad defacto standards for unsophisticated buyers using poor adaptations of incomplete ideas.
  • I don't know how many of you have ever met Dijkstra, but you probably know that arrogance in computer science is measured in nano-Dijkstras.'

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